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THE ART OF WILSON HARRIS 



BY 



MMilON C. GILLILMD 



A DI.^SERTATIOi:! PRESENTED TO ItlE G.R.\DUATE COUNCII 
OE TEE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN 
PARTIAL FULFI1.LMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS 
FOR THE DEGR.ee OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY 



LT^TIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 
1982 



Copyright 19B2 

by 

Marion Charlotte Gilliland 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



Abstract iv 

Introduction The Visionary Art of \vilson Harris 1 

N otes 14 

Part I Contexts of Vision 

Chapter 1 An Overview of the Fiction 17 

Notes 35 

Chapter 2 Wilson Harris in the West Indian Context 37 

Notes 60 

Chapter 3 The Role of Imaginaticn in Creativity 63 

Notes 78 

Chapter 4 Three Structuring Ideas in Wilson Harris's Fiction 81 

Notes 115 

Part II Visionary Texts 

Chapter 5 Companioas of the Day and Night 119 

Note s ' 133 

Chapter 6 D a Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness , . . . 134 

Notes 154 

Chapter 7 Genesis of the Clowns 155 

Notes c . . 170 

Chapter 8 The Tree of the Sun 171 

Note 184 

Appendix Three Interviews with Wilson Harris 

Synchrcnlcity 186 

Shamanisiu 205 

The Eye of the Scarecrow 227 

Bibliography 244 

Biographical Sketch 260 



Xll 



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council 

of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the 

Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 



THE ART OF WILSON HARRIS 

By 

Marion C. Gilliland 

December 1982 

Chairman: Alistair M. Duckworth 
Major Department: English 

Wilson Harris, the Guyanese novelist, critic and poet, seeks to 
create new forms in the novel which will reflect his vision of the basic 
unity of man. This unity is free of cultural and racial ties, embodies 
a new state of consciousness, healed rather than divided, and is open to 
greater possibilities of human fulfillment for all men. Harris thinks 
that such a consciousness is possible if men can learn to avoid the 
destructive polarization and stasis which now rule their attitudes and 
behavior. He believes that through the use of the creative imagination 
men can go beyond ruling structures to a mediating force outside those 
structures. 

This study deals with the way in which Harris seeks to portray the 
subjective imagination in his fiction. By focussing on the complexity 
of his multi-faceted characters, and his artist/creator/author 
protagonists in particular, this study analyzes Harris's descriptions 
of disintegrating inner and outer worlds and follow his breaking and 
broken individuals in their search for a reintegrated identity. By 
dispensing with norr:al conventions of style and language, by pairing 



opposites, by telescoping times and characters, Harris seeks to involve 
the reader in his fiction as he "digests" apparent contrasts in order to 
move toward a whole and integrated psyche. 

Synchronicity , the shaman figure, and the "eye of the scarecrow" 
are three devices he uses to suggest ways whereby his characters, and 
his readers, may learn to see more clearly and nove toward a unified 
vision. Harris discusses these devices in three interviews, which are 
published for the first time in the appendix, and both his discussions 
and creative ficitional use of the terms are investigated in this study. 
VThilc Harris does not believe an actually perfected psyche is possible, 
he does believe we can use a subjective imagination to free ourselves 
from stasis and the tyranny of technology, and he does propose 
iraaginative means of moving toward that perfection. 

The growing body of Harris's work, his constantly evolving style, 
bis positive vision of the world, and the increasing critical acclaim 
extended to his novels, all suggest the need for a study of his fictional 
art. This dissertation seeks to fulfill that need. 



INTRODUCTION 

Wilson Harris, the Guyanese novelist, poet, and critic, was born on 
24 March 1921 in New /'jasterdam, British Guiana, of mixed Amerindian, 
European, and African descent. Ee was educated at Queen's College, 
Georgetown, British Guiana, where he studied land surveying from 1939 to 
1942. After qualifying for practice, he led many survey parties into 
the heart of the interior, into the rainforests of Guiana for mapping 
and geomorphological studies. From 1955-1958 he was the Senior Surveyor 
of Projects for the government of British Guiana and in 1959 he went to 
live in London. 

Before he left Guiana for England Karris published mostly poetry: 
numerous individual pieces in a variety of publications and two full 
volumes compiled later. Though several short stories and most of his 
poems were published while he lived in Guiana, the bulk of his work has 
been published since I960 in England and includes fourteen novels, two 
full collections of short stories and more than a dozen other stories, 
six full or monograph-length studies, and numerous shorter critical and 
theoretical essays. For a complete listing of Harris's novels, short 
stories, critical essays, and other work, the reader is referred to the 
bibliography. 

Harris is increasingly recognized as a writer who creates new forms 
in the novel while advocating a reconciliation among races and nations. 
Speaking of man's involvement in the quest for community, he has said: 



It is this quest that nakes the imaginative artist profoundly 
responsible and this kind of responsibility has nothin~ to do with 
being a spokesrr^an for a particular society. The world in which we 
live today is so dangerous and so riddled with problems that what 
is at stake is the birth or rebirth of community in ths most 
c'enuine sense in which one could use that term. 

It is Harris's coi— itment to the search for a renewed human 

community, through inaginative rather than political means, which is the 

central theme of his novels and the focus of this study. This commitment 

has, naturally enough, given Harris international visibility, numerous 

awards, and honors. Anong other distinctions, he has received grants 

from the Arts Council of Great Britain (1968, 1970) and has served as a 

delegate to the National Identity Conference in Brisbane (1968) and the 

UNESCO Symposium on Caribbean Literature in Cuba (1968) . He has been a 

writer in residence at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, 

Canada (1970); University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica (1970); 

University of Aarhus , Aarhus, Denmark (1973); and the University of 

Newcastle, Australia (1?79). He has held fellowships from Leeds 

University in Caribbean Literature (1971) , the Guggenheim Foundation 

(1973), the Henfield IIA (1974), and the Southern Writers' Fellowship 

(1976). In addition, he has held a visiting lectureship to the 

University of Mysore (1973) and was guest lecturer at Yale (1979). 

For four years the University of Texas in Austin has asked him to be a 

visiting professor (1972, 1980, 1981, and 1982) and in 1983 he will be 

the Regent's Lecturer ac the University of California. 

Harris's v;ork is at the far end of the scale of social realism 

which has been maintained as the major style of West Indian Fiction. He 

deviates from the usual descriptive, realist type of Caribbean fiction, 

using landscapes to create meanings and images that radiate outward in 

widening circles from a central theme. One of the few West Indian 



writers to actually live and work among Amerindians in the South 
American interior, he uses his extensive personal experiences with both 
indigenous peoples and local landscapes as the basis for most of his 
characters and locations. Though these have shifted in the most recent 
novels from the heartland of Guyana to Europe and even Mexico, the 
characters still trace their genealogical and psychic roots to the 
Guyanese interior. 

In Harris's fiction characters may appear and disappear, become 
interrelated in intricate patterns of social and family relationships, 
and experience a breakdown of time and an explosion of space. A person 
nay turn into a place, a place into an aspiration; what begins as 
flashback suddenly leaps forv/ard into the future but returns either In 
the present novel or another to bring together fragmented elements of 
man and his landscape in a symbolic and imaginative fashion- Startling 
the reader, Harris's novels open up new ways of seeing the world and 
man's place in it both individually and collectively; men and landscapes 
take on a universal significance. 

As the appended bibliography indicates, Harris's worV: has been the 
subject of a growing number of critical commentaries and interpretations. 
Many of these studies inform, this dissertation and are acknowledged in 
future chapters. At this point two critics may be singled out for 
particular notice. Not only are they outstanding for the quality and 
quantity of tbeir work, but their approaches highlight what is difficult 
and unfamiliar about Harris's work. The first critic is Kichael Gilkes, 
who analyzes an alchemical theme in Harris's early work; and the second 
is Kena Maes-Jelinek who explores a theme of breakdown and breakthrough. 



Ill V.'ilson Harris and t b. e Caribbean li ovfcl (1975), Cilkes points out 
similarities in the writing of several of tlic best known Caribbean 
authors vho focus on what he conceives of as a coramon schizophrenia: a 
"division of consciousness." Cilkes recognizes that the general 
confusion of cultural and ethnic identities emerges, for example, in a 
writer like Edgar Mittleholzer as an obsession with the genetic blemish 
of his African ancestry and desire to win acceptance from his European 
antecedents; or it appears in a writer like V.S. Naipaul, though of 

unmixed East Indian ancestry, as a view of himself as a "cultural 

2 
mongrel, an inheritor of a 'rubbish heap' of broken cultures." Gilkes 

believes that rather than deal with the divided consciousness as a 

hopeless condition, Harris seeks a "new state of consciousness," which 

will permit a new sensibility to be created through the cross-fertiliza- 

3 
tion of cultures and races, victors and victims. 

Gilkes sees Harris's use of juxtapositions and wedding of opposites 
to achieve unity as an expression of his interest in alchemy. While 
many have thought of ancient alchemists as merely trying to turn base 
metals into gold, to concoct an elixir vitae , a deeper response to this 
activity centers on the concept of transubstantiation. Through a 
mysterious transition from one state to another, a melting and refine- 
ment, base elements could be converted into valuable ones by undergoing 
a transitional process similar to the process in which Harris's 
characters are involved. In the context of the Caribbean "melting pot" 
of cultures and characters, the application of such alchemical processes 
allows Harris, in Gilkes 's view, to move toward a cultural fusion and 

renewed possibilities, or, in ny view, to move froi.i "base'" individual 

4 
cultural elements toward ' refined" perspectives for all men. 



Gilkes refers to Arthur Koestler, who sees a disassociatiou in 
modern man arising out of a split between the old brain, which is the 
seat of primitive emotional reflex, and the new brain which is the seat 
of experimental reason. This brain split can be healed by an alchemical 
process which transforms homo maniacus into a true homo sapiens . In his 
own novels Harris shows how twentieth-century man can be healed in a 
similar fashion through the alchemical transformation of a mind 
programmed by ritual reflexes (the static inbuilt codes of history) into 
a mind of open and unpredictable possibilities. Later, in the chapters 
dealing with specific novels I shall discuss the "tabula rasa" and 
"healed mind" figures which are either the catalyst for, or result of, 
this psychic alchemical process. These appear in Harris's fiction, for 
example, as Idiot Nameless, Fool, and Black Marsden, who are either 
capable of unravelling their own "historic garments" or of helping 
someone else, like Goodrich, learn to unravel his. They provide the 
catalyst for potential change and increasingly positive growth in the 
last four novels: Companions of the Day and Night , D a Silva da Silva's 
Cultivated Wilderness , Genesis of the Clowns , and The Tree of the Sun . 

Gilkes 's focus on an alchemical theme is particularly appropriate 
to Harris's novels since, in "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean 
and Guianas" (1970), Harris himself discusses the stages of the 
alchemical process and compares the elements to Caribbean literary 
elements. Harris compares the bush-baby syndrome to what C.G. Jung 
calls the puer aeternus , the immortal or archetypal child of dreams. 
Looking at this "immortal child of dreams" in alchemical terns, he 
discusses the three stages of the process: the first is nigredo or 
blackness, the massa confusa, unknown territory or undiscovered realm; 



6 

the second is albedo or whiteness, an inner perspective or illumination, 
or the dawn of a new consciousness; the third is the cauda pavonis , 
colors of the peacock, the variable possibilities of fulfilment we can 
never totally realize. Harris's use of the alchemical process has been 
expertly discussed by Gilkes and becomes increasingly clear as Harris's 
reader progresses from The Palace of the Peacock (1960) with its readily 
apparent use of the cauda pavonis colors and symbolism, through the body 
of Harris's work all the way to the less obvious, but equally important, 
use of characters, like Black Marsden, who incorporate several of the 
elements into a single, multifaceted personality. This multifaceted 
personality is so important to Harris's novels that it will provide a 
basic motif for discussion of Harris's work in the second part of this 
study. 

In his essa> "The Native Phenomenon" (1971), Harris discusses the 
frontiers of the alchemical imagination as a means to move beyond an 
opus contra naturam into an opus contra ritual . He believes a new 
definition of community is needed but not a jettisoning of ritual since 
it belongs to the memory of a group. Ritual needs to be used as an 
"ironic bias," that is, as something which unravels self-deceptions 
within self-revelation and allows man to see through the various 
"dogmatic proprietors" of the world into the play of contrasting 
structures and anti-structures to a drama of consciousness which lies 
beyond those limitations. Through an alchemical process of imagination 
man can "digest contrasting spaces" and tones, avoid the temptation to 
commit himself to a conservative bias or entrapping stasis, and "digest 
as well as liberate contrasting figures" in order to give full play to 
community and the creative imagination. There can be no such thing as 



too much creativity for that V7culd imply a state of perfection, of 
paradise. 

Many of Harris's unusual terms, such as "dogmatic proprietors," 
"ironic bias," or "digestion of contrasting spaces" are difficult to 
understand and they will be discussed at greater length in Chapters 3 
and 4 on Harris's style and vocabulary. At the coment I wish merely to 
introduce some of Harris's basic themes, goals, and terms iu order to 
provide the basic structure for more detailed discussion to follow. For 
example, closely related to the idea of digesting contrasting spaces is 
the theme of understanding and coming to terms with indigenous peoples. 
Though a common response has been to view native populations as second 
class citizens, or at least not of great importance, these "natives" 
have, in Harris's view, a sophistication of their own equal in its way 
to that of their more "civilized" counterparts. 

"Native" for Harris is not at all a pejorative term nor does it 
refer simply to people of a particular locale. For hin it refers to one 
whose resources are so deep that they embrace, however obscurely, many 
contradictions; a "native" is, in fact, a universal man. In this sense 
Harris sees Karl Marx as a profoundly "native" phenomenon; so too are 
Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Amos Tutola, Wole Soyinka, Denis 
Williams and Ale jo Carpentier, for they are not merely local ornaments 
of a given class or prejudice. Harris believes that if Caribbean 
writers are to move toward being "native," to go beyond being merely 
local historians, they must develop a new philosophy of history which 
relates to the arts of the imagination. 

Through involvement with Caribbean "natives," through digestion of 

Q 

"contrasting figures" which separate m.en. Karris believes man can come 



to a more profound understanding of human nature. Such an understanding 
requires an involvement with the aboriginal facts of conquest, with 
essentially human or natural facts involvLug sometiraes catastrophic 
changes- Karris believes that the conquest of aboriginal populations 
remains like a ruin of psychological premises, an expression of cultural 
biases in the midst of the Caribbean mind that could serve as a gateway 
for a new philosophy of history and anthropology. 

Harris believes that if a community is to create a living future it 
must begin to penetrate and unravel its biases in order to bring into 
play a complex wholeness. This wholeness will be, in his words: 
"inhabited by other confessing parts that may have once masqueraded 

themselves as monolithic absolutes or monolithic codes of behavior" in 

9 
whatever land they originated. Through a sort of alchemical process 

modern man can break down these biases, these monolithic codes of 

behavior, and move toward a community of Man. 

Harris uses language imaginatively to enhance our vision rather 
than cerebrally to convey intellectual meaning, and, as Michael Gilkes 
has claimed: "by applying the open-ended scale of myth and archetype 
Harris discovers possibilities for the novel which are virtually 
endless."" Yet it is the alchemical model that is the main theme of 
Gilkes 's analysis, the theme that guides the reader through the 
complexity of Harris's symbols and metaphors, and the initially 
confusing structures of his novels, to a fuller understanding of the 
belief in a unity of mankind which forms the basis of Harris's fiction. 

In the works of Hena Maes-Jelinek a rather different, though 
complementary, perspective appears. At the heart of Harris's work, she 
believes, lie the images of breakdo^vn and breakthrough, Ivan Van 



9 

Sertlm,i expresses her theory as follows: "the breakdoiNm is a grave, 
almost fatal crisis within man; the breakthrough is the almost 
miraculous salvage and renewal of wholeness from fragmentation and 
ruin. " 

x4aes-Jelinek feels that Harris, unlike other novelists, avoids 
creating a given or recognizable picture of man and his society because 
such would merely confirm a given, "static," world view instead of 
modifying or deepening that viex>r. Through her studies she shows that 
when Harris evokes a configuration which can be recognized as a particular 

society he does so only to show that it must be broken down and a new 

12 
vision created. As Ivan Van Sertima usefully glosses her argument: 

Man, standing on the apparently secure floor of the given world 
(world of accepted values, rigid assumptions, ideologies, faiths, 
frozen reflexes) , suddenly sees fissures opening up In that floor 
through which he falls, spinning blindly at first in what appears 
to be a void (ground of the v/orld's night) but where in fact he 
begins to see with a profound and penetrating clarity buried roots 
of being (eclipsed selves, eclipsed potentials, eclipsed 
perspectives) and resensing and recovery of which stays his fall 
and enables him to retrieve a foothold on the breaking and broken 
world, 13 

In Maes-Jelinek's own words: 

[Harris] has never ceased to insist on the 'digestion of 
contrasting spaces' but he does not optimistically believe that they 
can be easily 'liberated,' They are part of man's nature (like 
good and evil) and of the physical world and can never be 
eradicated. But underlying those contrasts and struggles within 
man, between men and indeed among all forms of being in the 
universe, there is a harmony capable of emerging through the most 
solid walls (physical and mental) as Carroll's song (in Palace of 
the Peacock) emerges through the waterfall.!^ 

Maes-Jelinek believes that Harris takes on the role of historian 

and philosopher in a world in which the historian's view is usually 

trapped by the "unbroken" individual. Harris's new novel form, his 

breaking and broken individuals, demonstrate a new way of recording 



10 
history through the language of a vision or drana of consciousness. She 
explains that one of the ways that Harris breaks down the barriers 
betv/een individuals and societies is through his free borrowing from 
various cultures. Harris never denies the specific character and 
experience of any cultural group, but his writing is meant to awaken 
ruen's sensibility and imagination to the real nature of their involvement 
in the world and to teach them to reject static ways. Though man, 
Maes-Jelinek says, cannot help being imprisoned within time and history 
he can achieve partial liberation by tending toward an "other," providing 
this other is not then allowed to become an absolute. 

Harris's novels usually deal with both inner and outer worlds, in 
both of which he discovers and describes polarized conditions. In the 
outer world there is a confrontation between victor and victim, 
oppressor and oppressed, which results in psychic deformation on both 
sides of the confrontation. Harris's novels describe not only the 
conflicts but the potential inherent in man for breaking through static 
ways of being and creating the possibility for rebirth. Gilkes, 
Maes-Jeliuek, and this author agree that Harris seeks in his novels the 
fluid mode of expression which will allow him to express what he sees as 
the duality of life and the reciprocity necessary between existing poles 
of the world. 

Maes-Jelinek sees the early novels moving from the breakdown of a 
character, his state of loss and deprivation, to a fiction where the 
protagonist/narrator is himself an artist, like Harris, who seeks some 
breakthrough which will allow him to come to a more complete under- 
standing of himself and his world. The earliest mvels ( Palace of the 
Peacock, Secret Ladder, and Wliole Armour ) , trace the breakdown of the 



11 

character in the course of the novel, v/hereas the middle novels (The Eye 
of the Scarecrow , The Waiting Room , Tumatumar i, and Ascent to Omai ) 
begin with the already broken figure. As I vrill show in Fart Two of 
this study, the latest novels ( Companions of the Day and Night , Da Silva 
da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness , Genesis of the Clowns , and The Tree of 
the Sun ) have narrators who have themselves undergone an earlier process 
of disintegration but are, at the time of the novel, well on the way to 
psychic understanding and re-integration. 

The earlier breakdown suffered by these characters benefits them, 
for their initial state of weakness or emptiness no longer imprisons 
them within a given or final world view. Each character becomes a 
medium, a "vicarious hollow" in which the past re-enacts itself. After 
the breakdown the characters are able to reach greater understanding of 
themselves and their fellow men. As I shall argue in the discussion of 
Harris's last four novels, when a character's broken memory yields a 
fragmented version of events, this fragmentation gradually allows for 
greater possibilities of psychic re-integration through an interpretation 
of events different from the first, confining one. The past becomes the 
main topic of these novels and is subject to the same crumbling and 
reshaping as the psyche of the character who relives it. Forms and 
characters are no longer rigid, they interpenetrate one another, create 
new forms in the process, and allow for a more positive restructuring. 

Maes-Jelinek points out that a character's mode of perception is 

often shattered by some catastrophe (a plane crash, a death), which also 

shatters self-created barriers; even time itself breaks down. 

The character, however, is at once the instrument and the object of 
his exploration, and his changing mode of apprehension usually 
brings about a breaking apart of his rigid and self-contained world 
and makes possible his insight into a deeper reality. So that 



12 

disraembeiTieat, 'breaking down things in order to see through 
things' becomes discovery, just as in the later novels the 
diminished state of man (the scarecrow man) becotr.es a necessary 
stage prior to a new growth in consciousness and ircagination. 

Harris pursues destruction of a character in order to fuse him with 

the object of his quest, and creates a new framework for the world and 

the character. The new framework, the result of "digestion of 

contrasting spaces," is more flexible and capable of continual 

modification. Only through this flexibility of vision can characters 

avoid being caught in the stasis of the rest of the world, avoid 

"conscripting time" or even causing stasis themselves, and avoid being 

the "dogmatic proprietors" of static modes of thought and behavior. 

Harris believes that only when characters are able to continue being 

flexible will they be able to arrive at a true reconciliation of 

opposites and give birth to Man rather than a broken individual. 

While wholeness is tentatively reconstructed or approached in the 
narrative through an accumulation of images, and perceived by the 
protagonist in visionary moments, it is never actually attained. 
The narratives trace the characters' oscillations between the 
finite world and their vision of the 'infinite' as they grope 
towards a metaphysical reality which both fascinates and terrifies 
them. 

Harris insists that by processes of breaking down and breaking through 

an individual may be capable of personal regeneration. Through the 

individual lies social salvation, "but man must first come to terms with 

18 

himself and his environment before he can ever hope to change society." 

These themes of alchemy and breakdov^n/breakthrough, which serve as 
unifying elements in the criticism of Gilkes and Maes-Jelinek, provide 
extremely important keys to understanding Harris's work. The themes 
have been greatly instrumental in providing the basis for this study, 
which will seek further to illuminate that work and move beyond to a 
careful analysis of the four novels Harris has written since Gilkes 's 



13 

Wilson Harris aud the Caribbean Novel (1975). Though these fine critics 
have done a great deal to lay a firm fouadation for any study of 
Harris's novels, his continuously expanding vision and unique style are 
so complex that any body of criticism nust be incomplete. It would be 
inpcssible for any single critic, and even so far for any group of 
critics, to do complete justice to a complex vision and style composed 
of Harris's degree of cultural eclecticism, his commitment to the 
creative imagination, his pursuit of an integrated consciousness, and 
his faith in man's ability to create that consciousness through 
imaginative fiction rather than through social or political agencies. 

The rapidly increasing body of work by and about Harris, as well as 
his numerous honors and requests for his participation as a writer, 
lecturer or delegate, indicates the growing need for wider understanding 
and appreciation of his unique innovations and difficult literary style 
and theory. In this dissertation 1 seek to facilitate that under- 
standing. The following commentary consists of two parts. Part One, 
"Contexts of Vision," characterizes Harris's fiction in terms of its 
narrative range and content, its relations to other West Indian fiction, 
and its distinctive stylistic techniques. Fart Two, "Visionary Texts," 
narrows the fccus to individual explications of Harris's four most 
recent novels. Following Part Two is an Appendix composed of three 
hitherto unpublished interviews with Harris. Of great interest in 
themselves, these interviews provide basic materials for a discussion of 
both his imaginative vision and the techniques whereby he seeks to 
embody that vision in fiction. 

Given the difficulties of Harris's style. Chapter 1 of Part One 
provides an overview of Harris's novels from the early Guiana Quartet to 



14 

his later nore experitaeiital and. imaginative fiction. Although a summary 
of plots and tliemes does injustice to the complexity of his fiction, at 
the same tine it suggests the range and character of his concerns and 
may prove useful to those readers who are new to Karris or who find his 
techniques a formidable bar to their comprehension of the novels. 
Following this overview. Chapter 2 seeks to identify Harris's particular 
place in West Indian fiction through a discussion of such other major 
writers of the region as V.S. Naipaul, George Lamming, and Edgar 
Mittelholzer. Neither of these chapters makes much of a claim for 
originality; both seek to provide informative contexts for the 
discussions of style that follow. Chapter 3 considers key features of 
Harris's style and vocabulary, while Chapter 4 examines his peculiar 
uses of myth and his extensive reliance on certain image structures. In 
these chapters, through a discussion of the fictional uses of 
synchronicity, shamanism, and what Harris calls "the eye of the 
scarecrow," I aim. to go beyond existing criticism of Harris and to 
prepare a context for the more detailed readings of Companions of the 
Day and Night (i975) , Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977), 
Genesis of the Clowns (1977), and The Tree of the Sun (1978) that follow 
in Part Two. 



Notes 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism," an interview with Michael Gilkes, 
London, 7 July 1577. A complete transcript of this previously 
unpublished interview is to be found in the appendix. 

^ Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , (London: 
Longman Group, Ltd., 1975), p. xxiii. 

3 

Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. xxvi. 



15 

4 

Ivan Van Sertima, "Recreation of the Psyche," review of Wilson 
Ha rris and the Caribbean Novel , by Michael Cilkes, Revie w '76, Fall 
1976, p. 1. 

Wilson Harris, "History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and the 
Guianas," Caribbean Quarterly , 16, No. 2 (1970), p. 20. 

Wilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," in Conference on 
Comnonwealth Literature ed. Margaret Rutherford (Aarhus, Denmark: 
Dangaroo Press, 1971), p. 148. 

Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 25. 
o 

Wilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," p. 148. 

9 

"Confessing" in Harris's terms is being able to admit to bias and 
with that admission comes the possibility for positive change. 

Wilson Harris, "Frontier on WTiich Heart of Darkness Stands ," in 
Explorations , ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 
1981), p. 135. 

Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. 40. 

12 

Ivan Van Sertima, "The Novels of Wilson Harris — An Introduction," 

Review '74 (Spring 1974), pp. 1-2. 

13 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design: A Reading of Palace of the 

Peacock , (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 1976), p. 60. 

14 

Ivan Van Sertima, "The Novels of Wilson Harris," pp. 1-2. 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design , p. 61. 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Wilson Harris," in West Indian Literature , 
ed. Bruce King (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 181. 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design , p. 13. 

18 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Wilson Harris," p. 191. 



PART OliE 



CONTEXTS OF VISION 



CHAPTER 1 



AN OVERVIEW OF THE FICTION 



Written in language that is extreaely dense and poetic, and 
treating settings and subjects that are unusual, Harris's fourteen 
novels resist easy categorical schemes. To be sure, they are all 
uncommonly short, ranging from 71 to 156 pages in length, but their 
brevity does not make then easy reading. On the contrary, Harris's 
style is so compressed, his imagery often so unfamiliar, tViat the 
attentive reader is likely to treat his novels, or large sections of 
them, as he would treat difficult poetry. Precisely because Harris 
invites microscopic analysis, however, one feels the need to step back 
from his novels in an attempt to gain perspective, to see them whole, or 
at least in larger terms. Here as elsewhere Michael Gilkes is helpful, 
providing us in Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel with a breakdown 
of the first ten novels into three groups. The first group, Gilkes 
believes, deals with "The Journey Inwards" and comprises The Palace of 
the Peacock (I960), The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The IJhole Armour 
(1962), The Secret Ladder (1963). Moving beyond their own inner 
struggles, the characters of the novels in the second group begin a 
search for "An Art of Extremity" as found in Heartland (1964), The Eye 
of the Scarecrow (1965), The Waiting Room (1967), and Tumatumari 
(1968). Gilkes' s third category is "The Expanding Vision" and includes 



17 



18 

Ascent to Offai (1970) and Black Marsden (1972) which lead into but are 
distinct from the last four novels: Cou.paaions of the Day and Night 
(1975), Da Silva d a Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977), Genesis of the 
Cl owns (1977), and The Tree of the Sun (1978). 

Harris's first four novels, known as The Guiana Quartet, focus on 
successive historical conquests and the victimization of various racial 
groups by white post-Columbian conquerors. Though the novels have 
primarily poor and uneducated characters, they trace the beginnings of 
man's search for himself, a self which is without specific racial or 
cultural ties and becomes representative of all men at all times. The 
characters suffer psychic disintegration as they lose or break free of 
restrictive historical and social patterns during their searches. 

The plot of Palace of the Peacock (1960), centers on a journey made 
in an open boat by Donne, a white creole rancher known for cruelty and 
efficiency, his more sympathetic brother, and his racially mixed crew^. 
On s superficial level the men search for Mariella which is, in typical 
Harris fashion, siuultaueously an old Indian woman and the Amerindian 
settlement to which Donne's native work force has fled because of the 
ill treatment they have suffered at his hands. Though the m.en are 
described as individuals they are also closely related by both social 
and blood ties, ties which imply the interrelatedness of all men. The 
journey to the interior is literal and physically arduous as well as 
metaphoric and psychologically arduous. One by one the men suffer a 
series of misfortunes and die v;hile struggling to get upriver, in 
Guyana, and upriver, too, in the streams of their own consciousnesses. 
They are struggling to reach into their own psychic interiors and come 
to terms with their imaginative and previously suppressed inner beings. 



19 

Palace, concludes as the last men die realizing Lhey have always possessed 

in themselves the elusive element they all pursued on the journey. 

Not for the only time in Harris's fiction, one is reninded of T.S. 

Eliot; here, of those lines near the end of "Little Gidding" (1943): 

We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring 

Wi].l be to arrive where we started 

And to know the place for the first time. 

Through the unkno\/n, remem.bered gate 

When the last of earth left to discover 

Is that which was the beginning; 

At the source of the longest river 

The voice of the hidden waterfall 

And the children in the apple tree 

Not known, becaxise not looked for 

But heard, half -heard, in the stillness 

1 
Between two waves of the sea. 

An even closer comparison may be (and has been) made with Conrad's 
Heart of Darkness (1899). Like Conrad's novel. Palace of the Peacock 
describes the inner quest of a relatively sophisticated man who moves 
not only upstream into geographically unfamiliar and dangerous territory 
but also makes a journey into himself. External events and elements of 
the physical world become analogous to inner conflicts and psychic 
barriers which must be overcome if the man is to find the unknown object 
of his quest, a psychic integration and peace. 

The motif of the inner struggle and journey is relatively common- 
place in West Indian writing and many authors use the theme, yet if 
authors like George Lamming and V.S. Naipaul suggest the need for an 
internal quest, they do not, Harris believes, move beyond either 
suggesting the need for greater understanding or parodying the conditions 
which gave rise to the need. Harris deals with the issue of the quest 
in literature in his essay "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darknes s 
Stands": 



20 

In this context of parody It is possible, 1 think, to register a 
foreboding about the ultimate essence of Heart of Darkness and to 
sense an exhaustion of spirit that froze Conrad's genius and made 
it impossible for him to cross the frontier upon which his 
intuitive imagination had arrived. . . My view is that parody tends 
to border upon nihilism, a fact all too clear in modern fiction and 
draufi. Parody is the flag of the death of god, the death of faith, 
and without faith imaginati\e art tends to freeze and cultivate a 
loss of soul. Perhaps god has been so conditioned by homogeneous 
or tribal idols that freedom of spirit seems a chimera. When I 
speak of the necessity for faith I am not referring therefore to 
cults of idolatry but to a conviction written into the stars as 
into one's blood that creation is a priceless gift beyond man-made 
formula or calculation of Faustian will. 

Conrad's despair is so marked that one is conscious of 
infinite desolation within the very signals he intuitively erects 
which bear upon a radical dialectic of form. His parody — ].ike 
Beckett's parody — remains form.idable because it cuts to the bone 
and heart of liberal complacency. But the transition beyond parody 
which humanity needs neither Beckett nor Conrad fulfills. 

Harris believes that through im-aginative fiction it is possible to 

move beyond this nihilism, away from mere parody, toward a form of 

fiction that is capable of helping man free himself from static modes of 

thought and life. In his discussion of Conrad's Heart of Darkness he 

explains what he believes the novel's form and function are: 

By form I mean the novel-form as a medium of consciousness which 
has its deepest roots in an intuitive and much, much older self 
than the historical ego or the historical conditions of ego-dignity 
which bind us to a particular decade or generation or century. 

The capacity of the intuitive self to breach the historical 
ego is the life-giving and terrifying objectivity of imaginative 
art that makes a painting or a poem or a piece of sculpture or a 
fiction endure long beyond the artist's short lifetime, gives it 
the strangest beauty or coherence-in-depth. 

It is this desire to transcend the immediate historical setting and 

historical ego of man that leads Harris to create forms in the novel 

which seek to move beyond those of Conrad and of other West Indians. 

Harris attempts to express in his novels the archetypal elements of 

man's psyche rather than those elements created by the immediate, 

narrow, ard deceptively hom.ogeneous conditions of the historical moment. 

He does this by deliberately creating "meaningful distortions of images" 



21 

which allow for a "profound, complex and searching dialogue between 

confessing and confessional heterogeneous cultures that are no longer 

4 
monolithic." The major difference, then, between Harris and Conrad 

(as Harris sees it) is that Conrad came to the "frontier" which depicted 

the stresses created by what Harris calls "monolithic cultures" or 

"static" cultures, but was unable to recognize the frontier or to move 

beyond it in Heart of Darkness . Harris deliberately seeks not only to 

pinpoint the static elements of cultures, but to advocate moving beyond 

them by means of an imaginative literature. 

Part of what Harris values in Conrad's writing is his use of 

adjectives, the very use condemned by F.R. Leavis in Tlie Great 

Tradition . Harris not only sides with Conrad against Leavis; he finds 

in the sensationalism Leavis disliked possibilities for imaginative 

development : 

I would question Leavis 's indictment of Conrad for an addiction to 
the adjective. The fact of the matter is that the intuitive 
archetypes of sensation and non-sensation by which Conrad was 
tormented are not nouns . They are qualitative and infinite 
variations of substance clothed in nouns. Nouns may reveal 
paradoxically when qualified, that their emphasis on reality and 
their inner meaning can change as they are inhabited by variable 
psychic projections born of the mystery of creation. There is a 
woodennes s to wood , there is also a gaiety to wood when it is 
stroked by shadow or light that turns 'wood' into a mask worn by 
variable metaphysical bodies that alter the content within the 
mask. The livingness of wood is the magic of carven shapes that 
act in turn upon the perceiving eye and sculpt it into a window of 
spirit. ^ 

Throughout his novels Harris's nouns increasingly take on the 

quality of the adjectives that clothe them and thus add multiple layers 

of meaning. A word used in Palace will reappear in later novels and its 

significance will grov/ with use. Just as Harris feels we must break 

free from static modes of society and binding historical forces, he also 

seeks to break free from many of the confines of language imposed by 



22 

historic literary forias. This struggle against "nominalism," as one 
might express it, becomes increasingly evident in the course of the 
novels as Harris's vision expands and his scyle evolves. 

One method Harris uses to break from traditional novel techniques 
appears in the second novel of the Quartet, The Far Journey of Oudin 
(1961). Harris uses a protagonist, Oudin, who dies before the story 
opens so the story takes place as a "flashback" in the rniud of a dead 
man. As a "dead" man's narrative it is freed from the usual constraints 
of time imposed on living people and includes past, present and future 
events. The other characters we meet are members of an East Indian 
community in Berbice, a community harshly ruled by a cruel environment 
and the moneylender Ram. Oudin has been hired by Ram to kidnap the 
virgin Beti so that she may becom.e Ram's bride and provide him with an 
heir for the "kingdom" he has accumulated at the expense of the other, 
uneducated and naive members of the community. The accumulation of 
material possessions is virtually the only way these poor people believe 
they can provide a buffer between themselves and the harsh, unrewarding 
life of farming a difficult land, but Ram seeks to take away even the 
meager physical comforts they manage to obtain. Though Oudin had 
previously done Ram's dirty work, he balks when it comes to kidnapping 
Beti and, rather than turn the young girl over to Ram, keeps her and 
marries her himself. They live together for thirteen years during which 
time Oudin, too, becomes indebted to the moneylender. At Oudin' s death 
Ram hopes to regain his hold over the ccmmunity by acquiring as his 
successor Oudin' s unborn child as payment for his debt. Beti, sensing 
the importance of the debit note she is unable to read, eats the note 
and Ram is forced to offer her freedom in exchange for her unborn child. 



23 

Beti represents the common people who, uneducated and oppressed, 
are unable to do more than barely survive in a harsh environment. 
Oudin, who is more clever than Beti, and one of Harris's early examples 
of the Doppleganger figure, is able to thwart Ram's attem.pts to rule the 
community. Because Oudin is psychologically strong he withstands Ram's 
various efforts and tricks and even in death succeeds in beating Ram. 
Because Oudin' s note is destroyed. Ran, v/ho represents the forces of 
tyranny and oppression, is unable to gain the complete power he has 
sought. Though, like Beti, these early Harris characters are relatively 
unaware of the significance of their actions or struggles, the attentive 
reader understands the need for a new vision which will free men from 
tyrannical authority, static and suppressive cultural elements, and 
oppressive histories. Though the characters of The Far Journey of Oudin 
were relatively unaware of the significance of their actions, the 
characters from now on have a grov/ing awareness of their importance. 

Harris's third novel. The Whole Armour (1962), is set on the coast 
of Guyana where the land is simultaneously eroded by the sea and enriched 
by silt deposits of the rivers. The inhabitants exist precariously, 
unwilling or unable to plant roots deep in the land and living helplessly 
day by day between alternating seasons of drought and flood. Cristo, 
the symbolically named protagonist, has been spurned by the community 
because he is different and educated. Ironically, it is only through 
him and later his son that a real future can become possible. When 
Cristo is willing to accept his responsibility and even a burden of 
guilt as a member of his community and work toward enlightenment and 
im.provement for all, he finds peace for himself and offers the example 
for others to follow. Cristo journeys to the geographic and psychic 



24 
interior and confronts the aboriginal "folk" who live there. By virtue 
of this journey, Cristo becomes an ever^Tjan figure and (by implication 
of his na^e) a Christ figure. Eventually he coir.es to terns v/ith his 
community, his environment and himself, but only when he is willing to 
accept responsibility as a member of the cotonunity. 

The last novel of the Quartet, The Secret Ladder (1963), centers on 
Russell Fenwick, an educated, articulate and introspective land surveyor 
leading a government hydrographic expedition into the interior to chart 
the upper reaches of the Canje River. Like Donne's crew, Fenwick' s is 
composed of a motley assortment of men who represent the many races of 
Guyana. During the seven days of the book's story, the m.en are all 
subtly changed. The more sophisticated crew members increasingly 
recognize not only the needs and fears of the men of their own survey 
group, but the needs and even terror of the primitive negroes who 
inhabit the interior. Through confrontation with the rebel Poseidon and 
his followers, Fenwick and his men realize the misunderstanding which 
has been created by the meeting of aboriginal and ancestral folk with 
technological men and equipm.ent. Fenwick is eventually able to come to 
terms with the problem and to see that, instead of offering hydroelectric 
power to move the country and its people toward improved life styles, 
his technological advances threaten not only the style but the life of 
the folk. Fenwick realizes that these folk have been greatly under- 
estimated but must now be recognized. Only by an understanding and 
appreciation of all the people, sophisticated men and those of the 
interior, will any men be able to m.ove for^'^ard. 

The journey to the interior is continued in the next four novels 
which Michael Gilkes groups as "An Art of Extremity." In Heartland 



25 
(1964), The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), The Waiting Room (1967), and 
TumatUBiari (1968), the characters, who have already suffered a breakdown 
at the opening of the novels, seek to escape their fragir.ented condition; 
attenpting to break through to more positive possibilities, they search 
for freedom frora the restrictions imposed by their earlier acceptance of 
static, inflexible, social forms. In this group of novels, language 
patterns reflect the broken nature of the characters. Characters and 
time are telescoped in complex ways that anticipate the intricate 
complexities of style found in Harris's most recent novels where time, 
place, and characters are often so interwoven that meanings deepen and 
multiply. 

Heartla nd (1964), the fifth novel, deals more explicitly with the 
theme of guilt and responsibility than The Secret Ladder (1963). Though 
it lacks the overt Christian symbolism of The VJhole Armour (1962), man's 
guilt, both literal and assumed, is the center of the main character's 
attention. Zechariah Stevenson has been implicated in a financial 
scandal involving his father's company; as a consequence, he goes into 
self-imposed exile and attempts to vindicate himself by making good. 
Like Fenwick in The Secret Ladder , Stevenson undergoes an initiation 
into a new state of consciousness, suffers through a purgatorial process 
of self-discovery, and eventually integrates his two opposing selves, 
the imaginative and the technological. 

The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), which follows Heartland , is 
related in setting and theme to the Guiana Quartet but represents a 
break from the style and language patterns of the earlier novels. The 
unnamed narrator describes apparently unconnected and arbitrary events 
in hallucinatory images. Gradually the reader becomes aware of a theme 



26 
of reconstruction of sensibility that is created through the ciimory of 
the narrator in flashbacks to childhood and historical events. These 
flashbacks bring the narrator to an awareness of possibilities, 
previously unconsidered, that in life there can be death, the death of 
the unfeeling or unseeing existence; and in death there can be life, the 
life of previously unsuspected potential, and even a return to life 
after a physical death, as was the case in Palace and The Far Journey . 
In Palace the entire crew of the boat died in an earlier expedition but 
returned to relive and re-experience in order to learn from previous 
errors or blindness. In The Far Journey the events of the story take 
place after the death of Oudin, but his perspective is the key to 
understanding the novel. In both novels death is a form of release for 
the characters, release from the narrow confines imposed on vision by 
the habits of a lifetime. In this way the narrator is able to uncover 
inner spaces, rediscover buried or unconscious parts of the psyche, and 
discover new and liberating meanings for events. 

In The Waiting Room (1967), language, overlapping tines, and 
characters repeated from earlier novels become so entwined that it is 
sometimes almost impossible to discern which character is speaking or at 
what time. Like The Eye of the Scarecrow , The Waiting Room takes the 
form of a disjointed diary or log-book kept by a person who has suffered 
psychic breakdown and now moves toward reintegration. Susan Forrestal, 
blind, and deserted by her lover, marries a man who is featureless, both 
literally because of her blindness and metaphorically because of his 
lack of distinguishing characteristics. No longer able to see the v7orld 
around her, Susan exists in the "waiting room" of her mind where she 
creates such a complex world that it is difficult for the reader to 



27 
decide whether she, the lover, the husband, or even the physical 
surroundings are real or merely Imaginary. Though all the characters 
learn from one other, it is the reader who cones to the fullest under- 
standing of the interrelationships between the characters and their 
surroundings. 

Like Susan Forrcstal, Prudence Solman of Turaatumari (1968) suffers 
a series of traumas X\?hich lead her to reconsider the events of her life. 
While the events of Susan's life were either seen in retrospect or 
apparently created in her mind, Prudence both reconsiders and experiences 
actual events. She has suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the 
recent decapitation of her husband in an accident as he rushed home to 
be with her during childbirth. The child also dies and she fears her 
husband's Amerindian mistress, Raka, who cares for her during this time. 
She also unhappily remembers members of her family, particularly her 
father whose carefully maintained mask of social respectability suddenly 
fell away as he lay dying. This series of traumas makes Prudence 
reconsider life and its meaning, and leads her to seek for some coherence 
in her past, some explanation for the events. She creatively constructs 
or reconstructs her own history and sees that she must free herself from 
the "dead historical time" and build a life free from the errors, 
one-sided attitudes, and false images created by her husband and her 
father. In order to do this she must learn to see with the scarecrow 
eye, the eye v;hich sees through surface realities and appears to her on 
the rock by the waterfall where her husband was killed. Once she is 
able to see with this eye she can see through the biases which trapped 
others and learn to accept Raka, learn to accept the "folk" as neither 
her husband nor her father could do. 



28 
The first four Harris novels, the Guiana Quartet, focused on 
characters who journey into themselves and the country seeking under- 
standing as representative racial types v The next four novels dealt 
with more individual characters who, in an effort to reach understanding, 
went to extremes of psychic self-examination. In the next two novels. 
Ascent to Omai (1970) and Black Marsden (1972), this psychic effort is 
continued and expanded in an explosion of images and language. This 
explosion reflects the disintegration of the character but also offers 
the possibility of a reintegration into a better person. The more 
complete and integrated personality is a major focus of the last four 
Karris novels, which will be the subject of Chapters 5 through 8 of this 
study. 

The disjointed speech and thought patterns found in Tumatumari 
(1968) and The VJaiting Room (1967) are continued and intensified in 
Ascent to Ogiai (1970). Harris also continues the theme that modern man 
must reconcile his technological self with his imaginative self, for 
technology and invention, the novel declares, can enslave man, but 
slavery can be overcome by means of the imaginative use of memory which 
allows him to reinterpret his history and heritage and move toward 
greater personal and community freedom. This move is begun by the 
protagonist Victor who has made and lost a fortune in the diamond and 
gold fields and, as the book opens, is climbing Cmai Hill in search of 
his dead father's old, abandoned claim. During his search he is bitten 
by a tarantula, becomes feverish and hallucinates. 

Victor's hallucinations free him from the rigid, static control of 
his surface mind; he is able to see far beyond iam.ediately visible 
connections to a greater understanding of himself and acceptance of his 



29 

father. This theme of a conceatration beyond "daylight concentration" 

appeared as early a& Palace of the Peacock in the "dead seeing eye" of 

the narrator (p. 13), and continues through the novels as the growing 

inagfc of the scarecrow eye which appears to Prudence in Turaatumari . It 

is a theme central to Harris's fiction, a theme which he has spoken at 

length about in an interview (see appendix), and I shall consider some 

of its inplications further in Chapter 4. Here it is worth quoting 

Harris's own comments on "the eye of the scarecrow": 

When one writes an imaginative fiction concentration is not 
daylight concentration, it's a much deeper kind of concentration. 
As a consequence, your ego, the historical ego, is in some degree 
moved, or broken, or altered to allow a far deeper intuitive self 
to come up and, in fact, to begin to do things within the 
concentration which the writer applies to the book. This intuitive 
self comes up, strikes at the historical ego and then creates 
something which has a future beyond the comprehension of the writer 
himself. And, it has a past also which is much deeper and stranger 
than the writer understands. So his fiction reflects in some 
strange active way a mysterious past as well as a future. Now that 
means that the fiction has an objectivity that is not the 
objectivity of daylight consciousness. It is not on the surface of 
the mind, it is much deeper and the synchronicity thing seems to me 
to sustain this. It means that the images, the structures which we 
see around us, are not as absolute and sovereign as they appear to 
be. ^ 

This daylight concentration is all Victor is capable of until he was 

bitten by the tarantula and suffered hallucinations. 

The hallucinations free Victor from socially imposed restraints 

which have blinded him, allowing him to enter his unconscious mind to 

seek for the understanding he was unable to reach on a conscious level. 

He remembers his childhood and his father who, depressed over his wife's 

death during Victor's birth, became a drunkard and a lecher. The 

literal climb up the hill suggests the great barriers, hills or mountains 

of mythology which can only be overcome by the truly heroic. "Seeing" 

through his inner eye his father's intense suffering, Victor comes to a 



30 
better understanding of his own life: bis love/hate relationship with 
his father and longing for his unknown nother. The novel ends as Victor 
suddenly senses a great understanding and compassion, the first step in 
reintegration of his own warring elements. 

He becomes an everycan figure whose story has reverberations of 
historical, psychological and mythological significance as he, like 
Prudence in Tumatumari , seeks a new birth in the "v7ell of the past" and 
moves towcrd it in an unpredictable flash of spiritual inspiration. His 
quest for his ancestral origins and longing for a pre-lapsarian world 
are synibolic of the search of not only Caribbean man but all men. Only 
by going beyond his surface history and reality can Victor achieve the 
new sense of feeling and insight which will allow him to break out of 
his self-created prison and move in a new, more positive, direction. 

Victor, and symbolically Man, begin, the rite of passage through 
the intercession of a trickster/shaman figure, a figure increasingly 
important in Harris's fiction and one discussed at length in both 
Chapter 4 and the Shamanism interview in the appendix. Victor, after 
being bitten by the spider, enters a trance or "limbo" state in which he 
acquires arcane knov/ledge as a part of his process of "becoming." This 
is the most overt use thus far of the trickster/shaman figure in 
Harris's novels; in later novels Black Marsden and Idiot Nameless are 
simultaneously shaman figures and shadows of the main characters. 

Though Harris's next two books. The Sleepers of Roraima (1970) and 
The Age of the Rainmakers (1971), are really collections of short 
stories, they too suggest the need for a re-appraisal of the powers of 
the imagination. Taken from Carib myths and legends, the stories 
portray a young child undergoing initiation, coming to an awakening and 



31 
renewal by extending both personal and coirraunity history. The more 
straightforward and simple language of the stories reflects the youthful 
nature of the protagonist and is simpler than the language of Harris's 
Eature and complex characters like Victor. Even in the young protag- 
onist, however, Harris creates the feeling that only through creative 
force and freedom of the imagination can man create the improved 
community toward which he strives. 

Harris returns to the novel form in Black Marsden (1972) in which 
"community" is also the main subject. The novel's protagonist is quite 
literally double: Clive Goodrich and Black Marsden are separate 
characters and complementary facets of each other's personality. 
Goodrich finds Marsden lying half-frozen in Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland 
and takes him to his own large home in Edinburgh to recover. Soon 
Marsden's friends begin to arrive: Jennifer ("Gorgon"), a beautiful but 
derelict nightclub entertainer; "Harp," an obscure musician; and 
"Knife," a beggar. Moving in and out of Goodrich's dreams, these 
characters take on different names and shapes as they act as spiritual 
guides to Goodrich and are revealed as additional elements of his own 
personality. Though the concept of the double, the multifaceted 
personality, appears in Harris's first novel and continues throughout 
the body of his work, it takes on the most complex nature and 
significance in Black Marsden . 

Since Clive Goodrich and Black Marsden simultaneously "project 
themselves" upon each other, and Knife and Jennifer "step forth" from 
Black Marsden, they not only become facets of the same personality but 

Q 

represent Harris's ongoing interest in syzygy. Marsden leads Goodrich 
into the journey to Namless, an interior and previously unexplored 



32 

territory, which is to be a proving ground for Goodrich's abilities to 
integrate the diverse parts of his psyche and "digest the catastrophes" 
of his existerxe. Marsden, the unconscious part of Goodrich's person- 
ality, refuses to accept the stasis which governs Goodrich's life and 
leads him on a journey through a series of metacorphoses as he seeks to 

construct a "new eye of the scarecrow" in order to "tunnel through" the 

9 
obstacles to an integrated psyche. 

Since Goodrich keeps a diary of his real and imaginary experiences 
in Namless he is able to trace the growth of his self-confidence and 
self-knowledge, realizing that he needs to change from within in order 
to achieve a more integrated psyche which balances his realistic and 
visionary halves. Goodrich begins the process with a recognition that 
while he gives material goods to Marsden and his friends he in turn 
receives psychic benefits. Through Marsden Goodrich learns that he must 
continue to wrestle with his problems and seek expanded vision, but can 
never complete the struggle, for that would imply the very condition of 
bias from which he has been striving to free himself. Clive Goodrich 
has been able to overcome his personal biases in his search for greater 
fulfillment, both for himself and his community. Harris implies that 
this is the course we must all take if we are to create a new and 
original wealth of opportunities from contrasting cultures, landscapes, 
and Ideologies. 

Clive Goodrich, who began his quest for understanding and a sense 
of community in Black Marsden , continues his search in Companions of the 
Day and Night (1975), the first of Harris's four most recent novels 
which I shall consider in detail in Part Two. Here he serves as a 
framing device, an editor for the collection of paintings, sculptures. 



33 

and writing of the now dead Idiot Nameless/Fool, and filters throuiih his 
own revised and better integrated psyche the iraages and events of 
Nameless 's diary. As he studies the collection and seeks to put it in 
order, Goodrich is both a created and a creating force. He is an 
editor, so involved in what he had originally regarded as trash, that as 
he begins to comprehend the importance of the works, he comes to view 
the collection as "magical contact with the gods" (p. 15). Just as the 
initially diverse characters of Black Marsden become elements of a 
multi-faceted narrator, so too do the various characters in Companions 
become facets of Idiot Nameless' s personality, which in turn is a part 
of Goodrich's increasingly complex psyche. By putting the collection in 
order Goodrich simultaneously orders his own psyche, lives through the 
journey of Idiot Nameless, journeys into himself, and comes to greater 
understanding. 

Da Silva is, at first glance, a less obvious repetition of 
character than is Clive Goodrich. Originally seen in Palace , Da Silva 
dies but reappears in Heartland only to die again. By the time he 
reappears in Da Silva da Silva' s Cultivated Wilderness (1977) he has 
progressed from being the unsophisticated porkknocker in the jungles of 
Guyana to being an urbane artist in London who traces his roots to South 
America. Though he is more realistically portrayed than most of 
Harris's protagonists. Da Silva is closely related to them. He is a 
composite character: artist and writer; new and old world man; creator 
and created force, aware of the shadows which haunt his psyche and 
seeking to integrate them into a complete and unified man. Of all 
Harris's characters Da Silva is the most optim-istically conceived. 



34 
Harris's characters laay exhibit a growing serse of awareness of 
their relationship to others both past and present, and Da Silva may 
offer the greatest hope for an integrated man who can literally and 
metaphorically becorie the father of future generations as he does at the 
end of Da Silva ; but there is no false suggestion that man is about to 
attain perfection. 

Genesis of the Clowns (1977) repeats the theme of a physical and 
mental journey into the interior of Guyana and into the mind in order to 
reconcile the parts of a divided self. Frank Wellington, a government 
surveyor, and his work gang explore and record the course and currents 
of a remote river. Unexpected events and tensions make Wellington 
increasingly aware of his relationship to the men and the land. Like 
the mixed crew of Palace , Wellington's crew are related both by emotions 
and blood and struggle for an improved world — one which is not yet truly 
attainable. 

Though the character Da Silva appears in several of Harris's novels 
as a unifying device. The Tree of the Sun (1978) is the only novel which 
is truly a sequel. It begins at the point Da Silva da Silva' s 
Cultivated Wilderness (1977) ended. After eight years of marriage Jen, 
Da Silva' s wife, conceives and as Da Siiva ponders the growing child he 
remembers a painting he began on the morning of conception which 
contained a growing image. This "foetus" is both the real child and the 
child of his iniagination through whom Da Silva is able to relate himself 
and his wife to their own antecedents, to the former childless tenants 
of their house, and to the whole community of man. Da Silva and Jen 
offer a type of resurrection for Julia and Francis Cortez by having the 
child the Cortezes could only dream about. The couples are further 



35 

united when Da Silva edits the journal Julia kept and the letters 
Francis wrote, in which they tell of their great love for each other and 
the pain they feel because they are unable to have a child. Harris 
suggests that the da Silvas's child belongs tc all of them and is a 
Evmbol of the unity of old and new v/orld, living and dead, dreamers and 
doers. 

These last four novels — Companions of the Day and Night , Da Silva 
da Silva' s Cultivated Wilderness , Genesis of the Clowns , and The Tree of 
the Sun — are mature indications of Harris's growing abilities to create 
new and interesting forms in the language of the novel while at the same 
time deploying those forms so as to advocate a unity among men. So 
important are these novels to an understanding of Harris's style, 
themes, and vision that they will become the focus in the second part of 
this study. At the moment, however, it is time to turn from an overview 
of Harris's fiction to a consideration of his peculiar place in V/est 
Indian literature. Harris's place in West Indian literature has been 
amply discussed and documented by others, dikes' s fine study, Wilson 
Harris and the Caribbean Novel , proved particularly useful in the 
composition of the discussion that follows. Chapter 2 will examine 
Harris's relation to three key Caribbean writers: V.S. Naipaul, George 
Lamming, and Edgar Mittelholzer , who share Harris's concern for the 
problems of a divided West Indian psyche but deal with the problem in 
more conventional ways. Though different from each other in important 
respects, they are more like each other than Harris is tc any of them. 

Notes 

T.S. Eliot, "Little Cidding" in T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems 
1909-1962. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), p. 208. 



36 

2 

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on ^-.Tiich Heart of Darkness Stands," 

in ?-ixpl orations , ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (.Varhns, Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 

1981), pp. 137-138. 

Vlilson Harris, "The Frontier on UTilch Heart of Darkness Stands," 
p. 134. 

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on WTiich Heart of Darkness Stands," 
p. 136. 

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands," 
p. 139. 

Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. 68. 

Wilson Harris, "Synchronicity ," an interview with Marion 
Gilliland and Ivan Van Sertima, London: 21 July 1980, 

Syzygy is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "the 
conjunction of two organisms without loss of identity; a pair of 
connected or correlative things; and, in Gnostic theology, a couple or 
pair of opposites." 

Q 

Wilson Harris, Black Marsden (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), p. 
94. 



CHAPTER 2 

WILSON HARRIS IN THE WEST INDIM CONTEXT 

Harris's emigration to London was typical of niany of the West 
Indian writers of his generation. In the early decades of the twentieth 
century when West Indian fiction began to appear, the masses to whom it 
night speak and of whom it was written hardly constituted a reading 
public. At other levels of the society a combination of two main 
elements discouraged writers: the long history of indifference to the 
arts and sciences, and the resistance of the colonized middle class to a 
native literature that was not in the English tradition they had been 
educated to consider the only literature possible. By the early 1950 's 
those who wished to make their livings by writing followed a pattern of 
emigration, usually to England but sometimes to America. Nearly every 
West Indian novel since then has first been published by London finus 
for sale to members of the British public. 

Not only was there a British reading public for those who choee to 
emigrate to London, there was also the increasing possibility for 
international recognition as well, something undreamed of in the West 
Indies. Besides the discouragement of a non-reading local public and 
poor printing methods which resulted in low quality production of a 
writer's work, there was the increasing temptation to go to London where 
writers like Edgar Mittelholzer and George Lamming had had novels 



37 



38 

published vithin three years. Few writers returned to their homelands 

for p.ore than brief visits since they could not hope to sur\'ive in 

societies where chronic unemployment for one quarter of the population 

existed and writers were seen as either crazy or affected. When asked 

about the problem of United audience in the West Indies George Lamming 

replied: 

It causes a problem, because the common people are often too busy 
looking for bread. You know, when a man is really rummaging for 
bread, you can't be too hard on him when he says, 'I have not the 
time for books.' The people whose lives are the substance of the 
books do not have an opportunity to see that life returned to them 
in literary form. 

The self-imposed exile of most West Indian writers resulted in 

widespread alienation, the price paid for achieving their ambitions. It 

is this alienation and the resulting psychic split v/hich serve as main 

themes for most Caribbean writers. While the movement out of the small 

and somewhat narrow West Indian societies allowed the writers to gain a 

perspective on their heritages, it also resulted for most in rootless- 

ness. V.S. Naipaul refers to this "regional barrier" in 1958: 

1 am never disturbed by national or international issues. I do not 

sign petitions, I do not march. And I never cease to feel this 

lack of involvement is all wrong. I want to be involved, to be 

2 
touched even by some of the prevailing anger. 

Although such a division of consciousness and the resulting search 

for identity are not themes peculiar to the Caribbean, they carry a 

particular force in this area. Vest Indian writers suffer not only a 

psychic split but a racial and cultural division which is often 

emphasized xn their daily existence and recorded in the literature where 

natural extremes of weather and landscape take on exemplary or symbolic 

meaning. These divisions and resulting conflicts cause many writers to 



39 

feel a great need to preserve; and protect themselves from traumatic 
forces whether natural, historical, or social. 

The theme of resistance to psychic disintegration is of course a 
coD-mcn one; it is found, for example, in The Heart of Darkness in the 
conflicts of Kurtz and Marlow, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 
the journey along the Mississippi River, and even in Eliot's Four 
Quartets . Even so, the story of a hero who suffers psychic disintegra- 
tion or disorientation has a unique element in West Indian fiction in 
that the journeys of self-discovery and reintegration of psychic forces 
are usually made by heroes who, like their authors, are racially and 
culturally mixed. The Guyanese author and critic 1-lichael Gilkes has 
observed that West Indian cultural mixing was bound to influence writers 
who contained in themselves the blood of many races even as he represents 
five of the six races found in Guyana. The search to identify their 
cultural or racial background is surely common to all West Indians, but 
for those sensitive and probing West Indians who seek to make their 
livings by their pens, the issue of identity is naturally more pressing. 
Moreover, since the West Indies presents a complex and heterogeneous 
society, the success or failure of novelistic protagonists is likely to 
describe, not a single man or a particular group, but a more generalized 
or composite man. In some works, like those of Wilson Harris, the 
protagonist, freed from specific cultural constraints, becomes represen- 
tative Man. 

Wliile many writers went to England or America to find publishers, 
others sought more basic help by trying to return to their "roots" in 
Africa or India. Colonialism had ditrTmed but not extinguished ethnic 
memories in the brief history of the area. Not merely a political 



40 

definition or an econonic arrangement, colonialism became for many the 

very base and structure of West Indian cultural awareness. V/hile under 

colonial rule, they were cradled by an absent or foreign mother culture 

and never had to stand on their own. Moreover, as the populations of 

the West Indies are predominantly non-white hostility toward coloreds 

did not exist, as it did, for example, in Alabama or Georgia. 

This freedom from physical fear has created a state of complacency 
in the West Indian awareness. And the higher up he moves in the 
social scale, the more crippled his mind and impulses become by the 
result of complacency. ^ 

This complacency may in part be the reason for the general 
acceptance by West Indian authors of the prevailing period styles in 
metropolitan or international fashion, which provide the models for most 
West Indian literature. To be sure, literary production has risen with 
growing national movements, and West Indian authors have often addressed 
the problems of colonialism and independence. Like other developing 
literatures, moreover. West Indian authors have incorporated in their 
novels creation myths of the past, local scenery, and local patterns of 
speech; they have described peasant life and have emphasized the 
existence of an indigenous community, both national and racial. But 
whether they have forged a national literature or an autonomous vision 
may be doubted. 

Perhaps the best known Caribbean writer is V.S. Naipaul. 
Originally a Trinidadian, he follows the traditions of nineteenth 
century British literature but transfers his stories to the Caribbean. 
A third-generation West Indian, he left the islands in 1950. Naipaul is 
a "masterly reporter" who brings a novelist's style and phrasing to a 
journalist's material. This approach keeps him on the edges of the 
events and lives he depicts: he is sceptical of the culture and politics 



41 

of his hoce land, criticising the slogans and false hopes which have 

kept West Indians trapped in colonial confines. UTiat others sought to 

describe througli realisn and protest Naipaul describes with humor and 

satire, pointing up the problems but offering no hope for change or 

method for making a change. 

Naipaul explains how he combines British and Trinidadian elements 

in his satire: 

To us, without a mythology, all literatures were foreign. Trinidad 
was small, remote and unimportant, and we knew we could not hope to 
read in books of the life we saw about us. Books came from afar; 
they could offer only fantasy. . . All Dickens' descriptions of 
London I rejected; and though I might retain Mr. Micawber and the 
others in the clothes the illustrator gave them, I gave them the 
faces and voices of people I knew and set them in buildings and 
streets I knew [in Trinidad]. Dickens' rain and drizzle I accepted 
as conventions of books, anything like an illustration which 
embarrassed me by proving how weird my owti recreation was, anything 
which sought to remove the characters from the make-up world in 
which I set them, I rejected. 

The English books which Naipaul read described complex societies 
which excluded him and, he felt, made nonsense of his fantasies. He 
became increasingly convinced his society was poor and haphazard: he 
felt his society was poor because it had no mythology or tradition, 
haphazard because it had never been written about. He had no local 
literary models; in fact, not even the English language was really his 
though it vjas the language he had grown up using. He knew he wanted to 
write but knew only Trinidadian society and it seemed small, remote and 
unimportant; it embarrassed him. 

Naipaul and other West Indian authors often mimic English or 
American models as they feel they have no viable models of their own. 
Naipaul 's critics agree that he not only imitates but also satirizes 

other imitations through swift, comic treatments, usually in the form of 

q 
picaresque narrative and comedy of manners. As imitations, Naipaul 's 



42 
carpenters, writers, and other workers create nothing new; they have no 
dignity and no hope, they offer us interesting and entertaining stories 
of people and countries, but they disturb us by their lack of resources 
and opportunities. The reader concludes that the characters are trapped 
in societies which they nust leave if they are to find true or lasting 
success. 

While Naipaul's fiction describes West Indian chaos and creates 
local color through extensive detail, it suffers from uneven construction 
and depends heavily on conventional devices and repeated phrases. The 
author is neither a participant in society nor completely removed from 
it; he seems unable to find an objective position that will allow him to 
be comfortable with his society and still make constructive criticism of 
it. 

In such novels as A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) and The Mimic Men 
(1967), Kaipaul's criticism singles out numerous targets for his highly 
subjective satire: politicians, missionaries, tourists, social climbers, 
administrators, and even writers. He also satirizes institutions that 
he feels contribute to the superficial nature of the society: the 
educational system, political systems and parties, anything which is 
lacking in principles and contributes to the stifling of authentic 
self-fulfillment. He derides the em.phasis on material success for its 
own sake, materialism which results only in mimicry- rather than 
authentic emotional or moral involvement. 

Naipaul's plots are simple. There is no great complexity or 
seriousness of action, the focus is on the characters and telling their 
stor>' well. The Mystic Masseur (1957), A House for Mr. Biswas , The 
Mimic Men and Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963) are told from 



A3 

the. point of view of a participating narrator who frames the story and 

seems nore of a continuity device than a three-dimensional character. 

These shallow characters have no control over their lives and, since we 

are told in advance what will happen, we, too, are separated from 

involvement in the action and the action is cut off from any connection 

with contemporary reality. This technique removes any possibility of 

mystery or surprise but allows Naipaul to concentrate on the details of 

description and the technicalities of writing. 

In Tradition and the West Indian Novel Harris refers to this style 

of writing as "comedy of manners" or "novels of persuasion." These 

terms suggest for Harris the mainstream literary tradition which: 

rests on grounds of apparent common sense: a certain 'selection' 
[of details] is made by the writer, the selection of items, 
manners, uniform conversation, historical situations, etc., all 
lending themselves to build and present an individual span of life 
which yields self-conscious and fashionable judgements, 
self-conscious and fashionable moralities. The tension v/hich 
emerges is a tension of individuals — great or small — en an acc^ted 
plane of society we are persuaded has an inevitable existence. 

The very separation which Naipaul creates between his characters and his 

readers is the separation which Harris seeks to eliminate. Harris's 

readers are forced to participate through "broken" language in the 

disintegration of psyche suffered by his characters. This experiential 

disintegration brings reader and character closer together, as I shall 

try to show in Part Two of this study in the explications of four of his 

novels. In these novels the chaos we see and experience is not merely 

the difficulty caused by conflicting social elements and the lack of 

interpersonal communication, as is the case with Naipaul' s characters; 

rather the chaos in which we participate results from deep personal 

traumas and eventuates, or promises to eventuate, in a reintegrated 

psyche and community. 



44 
Naipaul, on the other hand, clains to be seeking only a true 

CGimriunicatiou with society, but he shows through his characters that 

12 

such conuiiuuication is r,ot c*ily non-existent but impossible. dikes 

notes that because Kaipaul considers comraunication so difficult he also 
sees true freedom as a nirage and psychic wholeness as a constantly 
receding vision. Merely preserving and protecting oneself from disorgan- 
ized and disintegrating elements of the world at large becomes, then, a 
main goal in Naipaul 's novels and an end in itself. 

Hoping to find an organized and integrated community in London 
Naipaul felt very much an outsider, and sought to discover more of 
himself by returning to India, the land of his ancestors. India was to 
provide dignity, purpose and order, but Naipaul found it was the 
opposite of what he had expected, as he shows in An Area of Darkness 
(1964). His later fiction depicts his sense of exile and displacement 
as well as v;hat he considers the effects of colonialism on the modern 
world. 

In 1971 Naipaul explained in an interview with Adrian Rowe-Evans 
that his style had evolved from the early reactionary style, from 
analytical attempts to find a release in humor, through an expanding 
writing style, to attempts to reconstruct his disintegrating society. He 
sought in his later fiction: "to impose an order on the world, to seek 
patterns," without which he said he "would fail to find that degree of 
intellectual comfort" necessary to his psychic survival and "would have 
gone mad." "^ In the early four or fJ.ve novels Naipaul sought to 
"record" his reactions to his society, to report on it and satirize it 
rather than analyze it or understand it. It is this satire which George 
Lamming and others found so objectionable: 



45 

Mr. V.S. Naipaul argues that. . . he could not endure the West 
Indian community because it was philistine. Of course, it is a 
Philistine society; but so, I'm told, are Canada and \".1:iite South 
Africa. Therefore, one can't say philistine and leave it at that. 
This would be to describe their present, and in doing so by the 
absolute judgement of philistine, condemn them permanently to a 
future which you have, already chosen. I reject this attitude; and 
when it comes from a colonial who is ner\rous both in and away from 
his native country, I interpret it as a simple confession of the 
man's inadequacy — inadequacy which must be rationalized since the 
man himself has come to accept it.-'-'^ 

Lamming feels that rather than being separated by ethnic 

differences, what should hold Indians and Negroes together in Trinidad 

is their common background as West Indians, a background whose basic 

feature is the peasant sensibility, the very quality which holds Lamming 

of African descent and Samuel Selvon of East Indian descent together as 

West Indians: 

Neither Sam [Selvon] nor I could feel the slightest embarrassment 
about this; whereas Naipaul, with the diabolical help of Oxford 
University, has done a thorough job of wiping out his guts. . . His 
books can't move beyond a castrated satire; and although satire may 
be a useful element in fiction, no important work, com.parable to 
Selvon' s can rest safely on satire alone. When such a writer is a 
colonial, ashamed of his cultural background and striving like mad 
to prove himself through promotion to the peaks of a 'superior' 
culture, whose values are gravely in doubt, then satire, like the 
charge of philistinism, is for me nothing more than a refuge. And 
it is too small a refuge for a writer who wishes to be taken 
seriously. -*- 

Lamming and Selvon are not the only ones who have reacted 

negatively to Naipaul' s satire. In a 1980 review of Naipaul' s most 

recent works. The Return of Eva Per on and "The Killings in Trinidad," 
Jane Kramer says: 

Again, it is the missing idea that haunts Naipaul, the palpable 
absence that gives everything he describes a kind of negative 
illumination and leaves nothing real except a savage frustration 
finding its release in blood and torture and sexual humiliation, in 
the castrating fury of the impotent. Argentina's rulers and 
vigilantes are like Salim in 'A Bend in the River,' spitting 
between the legs of the woman who has shamed him. Their woman is 
an idea that eludes them. And rather than look for her, they shame 
one another with the brothel-victim charms of an Eva Peron, the 



46 

madain turned saint in an incompleted country, taking out her pay in 
abjection and sentiment, her bright red lips feeding on their lost 
souls. Men without progenitors, without issue. 

So we bave aiiother book of Naipaul's journalism, written with 
obsession and eloquence, A topography of the void. 

Naipaul's characters suffer from an inner emptiness; a void exists 
where they should have a core of stability, strength and courage. 
Feeling trapped in lives and situations over which they have no control, 
they seek escape only to learn that they take their misery with them, 
exchanging only the place not the nature of their suffering. Such 
characters as Biswas of A House for Mr. Biswas (1951), Ganesh of The 
M ystic Masseur (1957), or Ralph Singh of The Mimic Men (1967) cannot 
understand why they live in apparently hostile environments and, lacking 
understanding or even the motivation to search for it, they are unable 
to correct the difficulties. Constantly in conflict with their environ- 
ments, whether natural or social, they live in decaying buildings 
(Biswas) , or once beautiful homes which are deliberately destroyed 
(Ralph Singh), or worse yet, feel threatened and intimidated by something 
so commonplace as a thunderstorm (Mr. Stone in Mr. Stone and the Knights 
Companion , 1963). Overcome by loneliness and helplessness they futilely 
seek escape in fantasy ( Miguel Street , 1959), accumulation of material 
possessions (Biswas and Ralph), or even sexual encounters (Ralph Singh). 
The characters live in a void, both inner and outer, and are powerless 
to change their situations. 

Naipaul explains his negative attitudes toward his characters and 
their society: 

It is not easy to write about the West Indian middle class. The 
most exquisite gifts of irony and perhaps malice would be required 
to keep the characters from slipping into an unremarkable 
mid-Atlantic whiteness. They would have to be treated as real 
people with real problems and responsibilities and affections — and 
this has been done — but they would also have to be treated as 



47 

people whose lives have been corrupted by a fantasy which is their 
cross. Whether an honest exploration of this class will ever be 
atteiapted is doubtful. The gifts required, of subtlety and 
brutality, can only grow out of a mature literature; and there can 
be advance towards this goal only when writers cease to think about 
letting down their sides. ' 

In strong contrast to Karris who seeks in his fiction an imaginative 
means of improving the v/orld and characters who can come to grips with a 
divided world, Naipaul's characters are alienated, motivated by negative 
forces and lacking in purposeful direction. They want to establish 
relationships which are stable and genuine, based on a personal authen- 
ticity, an inner core of self-identity. When the characters flee from a 
place, seeking release from their loneliness and isolation, they change 
the scene of their struggle but not the emptiness within. Ralph Singh 
sums up the pattern of Naipaul's characters in The Mimic Hen : 

Our grievances were our reality, what we knew, what had permitted 
us to grow, what had made us. We wondered at the ease of our 
success; we wondered why no one had called our bluff. We felt our 
success to be fraudulent. ° 

Ralph, like most of Naipaul's characters, seeks an external solution to 

an inner problem and emptiness and finds that psychic wholeness has 

eluded him. 

Even in Naipaul's non-fiction and recent works such as The Return 
of Eva Peron it is the idea of searching for something missing that 
dominates the writing. The combination of negativism, frustration, 
humiliation, and even fury leave the reader feeling that Naipaul's 
journalism, though eloquently written, is, after all, merely "a 
topography of the void." 

Naipaul stands in strong contrast to Harris; while one is consis- 
tently negative and offers no hope for change, the other is continually 
stressing the positive, if confusing, elements of man and his world. 



48 
The negative view which characterized Naipaul's early novels can be 
traced throughout the body of his work. Characters begin as unaware, 
uncomfortable in their surroundings because they are uncomfortable in 
themselves, and seek escape from their alienation, loneliness and 
it;olation. Unfortunately, they seek only external solutions to inner 
enptiness. Though Harris's characters are often alienated from their 
surroundings and other characters they struggle through their alienation 
and psychic disintegration toward greater understanding of themselves 
and their world, both physical and social, and by implication move in a 
positive direction both for themselves as individuals and for the 
community of mankind. 

Naipaul is not alone, however, in his negativism and sense of being 
isolated from tradition and society. George Lamming, born in Barbados 
in 1927 of African ancestry, shares something of his anomie. 

In the Castle of My Skin (1953) was the first West Indian novel to 
become a classic and is still one of the most often read Caribbean 
works. Lamming 's six novels chronicle the sweep of West Indian history 
of which he was a part as he grew up in Barbados and Trinidad during the 
1930' s and 1940' s as the island colonies struggled for their indepen- 
dence. Though he is an outspoken nationalist, he is yet another writer 
who had to leave home to find publishers and a reading public. 

Lamming uses local Barbadian speech in a poetic style to portray 
social problems and changes. Originally a poet, he still heavily 
emphasizes the aural and visual, causing some critics to claim that his 
prose is not prose but very difficult poetry, more easily comprehended 
when read aloud because of the rhythms and dialect elements. Lamming 
gives dignity and significance to local material in literature and 



49 

comments on the foibles of West Indians without resorting to protest, 
exoticisK, idealisation, or the biting satire of Naipaul. 

\\'hile only tv/o of Lamming' s six novels deal with Europe, the other 
four trace patterns and vocabularly of West Indian history from colonial 
tines in In the Castle of My Skin (1953), through the gaining of indepen- 
dence in Season of Adventure (1960), to post-independence struggles and 
riots in Water with Berries (1972), and finally to a summary in his most 
recent novel Natives of My Person (1972), which reaches back to the 
beginnings of colonialism and, through allegory, suggests the recurring 
patterns of the history of the area. Though each of the novels is 
complete in itself they are all part of a developing vision of the 

pressing problems of decolonialization on the politics and psychology of 

19 
the West Indies. 

Lamming seeks to write "good" books which will accurately depict 

the people of the West Indies, not merely depict characters who will be 

popular for a while. For Lamming this means not only using the 

language, people, and surroundings of the Caribbean but using them in 

such a way as to show a political commitment and leave a lasting 

impression on readers. For him "bad" books appear to be extremely 

exciting for a year or two and everybody talks about then, but five or 

six years later nobody can remember anything about them. A "good" book 

nay not even be particularly noticed when it first appears, but it will 

become increasingly important because readers will find it addresses 

itself to issues which are of long-term concern. Though their methods 

of achieving the goal differ, both Lamming and Harris believe writers 

should have a beneficial effect on their readers by dealing with issues 

of social importance. As Lamming notes: 



50 

Although I would make a distinction about 'function,' I do not make 
a distinction about 'responsibilities' [for the artist], I do not 
think that the responsibility of the professional politician to his 
society is any greater than the responsibility of an artist to his 
society. You luay have a man who is a good writer. Then I think 
that one of the best political contributions that he can make to 
the society is to write good books. ^^ 

Lamming believes that this relationship of artist to the dramia of 
politics is one of the basic themes running through everything he 
writes. In Kas-Kas he discusses how he believes special difficulties 
face the creative imagination writing in and of a society which is 
simultaneously in transition and very explosive. Writers of serious 
intention must be organically related to the political movements of 
their societies. Yet for Uest Indians this is made very difficult by 
their simultaneous need to protect themselves against the demands of 
what Lamming calls their "external reality," the pressures of a society 
which is not very appreciative of artists and offers them little chance 
for successful publication or acceptance. 

For Lamming, In the Castle of My Skin is relevant to intelligent 
and sensitive readers in any part of the English-speaking world because, 
like Harris, he believes the theme of internal and external drama is 
universal. His greatest pleasure, he says, would be to know that the 
cane-cutters and the laboring class would read and understand this novel 
because the book is about them, but he realizes he must depend on 
educated classes elsewhere to make up his reading audience, for the very 
people of whom he writes have neither the education ncr the time to read 
his books. 

The difficulties faced by a creative imagination are the topic of 
In the Castle of Ky Skin which centers on "G", a child who is both the 
young Lamming and an often romanticized product of a "creative 



51 

imagination" in the process of developing amidst the turbulent changes 

of his society moving from colonialism to independence. G, like other 

colonial intellectuals, becomes uncomfortably aware of the rapid and not 

altogether pleasant changes taking place as his country moves from the 

traditional social structure into the greater opportunities for social 

and personal independence of the twentieth century. 

The autobiographical In the Castle of My Skin depicts the dilemm.a 

faced by West Indians who manage to gain an education and move from one 

social stratum to another, a move which virtually necessitates a move 

from one culture to another, a move often from home to exile. Lamming 

described this move in an interview: 

Education was the only thing that was going to rescue me from total 
disgrace. It's a direct result of the social stratification of the 
education itself that after a boy had gone to the high school he 
would not have been expected to keep the sane company that he kept 
before coming. His problem was that he found himself living in two 
worlds. . . When he was with the boys in the high school, he was 
always in a quandary about whether he should speak to the village 
boys. . . society was built in such a way that when you left one 
school and went to another, you left one world and went to another. 

This move away from familiar places and ways of life is the subject 

of Lamming's second novel. The Emigrants (1954), which shows how the 

isolated self may become cut off from West Indian reality by a cocoon of 

racial apathy and colonial self -hatred; the novel also shows, however, 

how group consciousness can transcend the isolation of geographic and 

ethnic sources, transforming the variety of cultural beginnings into a 

unified whole. Lamming vividly describes West Indian identity in the 

words of a Jamaican carpenter in The Emigrants : 

England, France, Spain, all o' them, them vomit up what them didn't 
want, an' the vomit settle there in that Caribbean Sea. It mix up 
with the voriit them make Africa vomit, an' the vomit them make 
India vomit, an' China an' nearly every race under the sun. . . It 
beginn' gradually to stir itself, an' you can understan' what 



52 

happen if you imagine you vomit take on life an' start to find out 
where yuh stomach is. 23 

Clearly, Lamming agrees with Harris, in theme if not in method of 
presentation, that Vv'est Indians must become aware of their dilemma, 
reject a destructive separation, and confront their diverse cultural 
realities — the "stomach'" sources of the "vomit." To that extent may 
they realize total selfhood and a true group consciousness. 

Though quite different in style. Of Age and Innocence (1958) and 
The Pleasures of Exile (1960) deal with facets of the same theme: the 
need for VJest Indians to change their value basis and structure in order 
to permit growth of interracial harmony and artistic expression based on 
West Indian needs and possibilities rather than on those externally 
imposed. Lamming believes that if VJest Indians could create their own 
standards for unity they would not have suffered the difficulties he 
describes in Season of Adventure (I960), which analyses the failure of 
nationalism of San Cristobal but which could be tied to virtually any 
West Indian attempt at independence. All of Lamming' s books center on a 
protagonist's psychic division and struggle to locate the "something 
missing" which will allow West Indians to achieve a wholeness not now 
possible. 

Lamming is in search of a new vision of the human community but 
knows that political change in the Caribbean must be accompanied by a 
profound change in the attitudes and vision of the people. Natives of 
My Person (1972) traces such a search for community as a journey into 
the psyche of both colonizer and colonized by a writer who feels himself 
a part of both worlds. Lamming, who feels it is the artist's responsi- 
bility to write "good" books which v;ill articulate at the deepest levels 
of the psyche the drama of redemption, has used his fiction to explore 



53 

the self, to present an argument for the necessity of art and the 

inagination in shaping a new vision of Caribbean unity and real human 

24 
treedom. 

Lamming and Harris share many thenatic elements though their styles 
are quite different. Both have deep concern for the artist as a respon- 
sible member of a community which, though it may have widely divergent 
ethnic groups, should seek a unified consciousness. By journeying 
realistically into the psyches of educated and creative individuals. 
Lamming shows the development of naive youth into responsible adult. By 
working through characters of heightened sensitivities he utilizes local 
materials (characters, setting, language) to create portrayals of West 
Indians as they become aware of the destructive facets of their societies 
and the negative influences of separation/ segregation. Through the 
description of originally alienated artist figures he argues for improved 
attitudes and vision. Yet, though these ideas are shared by Lamming and 
Harris their individual presentations are quite different. Wliile 
Lamming creates primarily realistic portrayals and describes the African 
Influence on Caribbean life, Harris emphasizes the total community 
rather than a faction within it. Wiile Lamming uset. some symbolic 
elements, Harris's novels are so complexly symbolic as to become almost 
symbols in themselves. 

Differing from the Trinidadiar Naipaul, the Barbadian Lamming, and 
the Guyanese Karris is the Guyanese author Edgar Mittelholzer. The last 
of the three background authors to be discussed but the earliest to 
write, he too was greatly concerned with an exploration and understanding 
of self. Born 16 December 1909, in New Amsterdam, Guyana, of French, 
German and Negro stock, he was the dark son of European looking parents 



54 

and lived the divided consciousness he wrote of so extensively in his 

25 
novels. A great disappointment to his father, a confirned negrophobe , 

Mittelholzer felt himself wronged by nature and sought to emphasize his 

German blood: "Just one drop of that great blood. Just one drop in your 

veins, and it nakes you different fron everyone else. German blood!" 

It is this dark heritage, his "mark of Cain," that affected not only 

Mittelholzer' s personal life but the lives of his fictional characters. 

Understanding Mittelholzer' s attenpts to achieve psychic wholeness 

is a step toward understanding the peculiar split of the Caribbean which 

preoccupied Naipaul and Lamining. Gilkes points out in "Racial Identity" 

that in all three writers the European presence is ambivalent, something 

to identify with but not something accessible to West Indians, for whom 

psychic wholeness is a constantly retreating vision always just out of 

27 
reach. Naipaul, Lamming, and Mittelholzer share the problem of a 

crisis of identity, a feeling that something is "missing," something 

without which a true communication with society is impossible. 

Mittelholzer, even more than Naipaul and Lamming, seeks to establish an 

identity and preseirve a psychic balance in a threatening and divisive 

v7orld. It is this problem of psychic balance and vjholeness that is at 

the center of Mittelholzer' s fiction and, indeed, of West Indian 

fiction. 

In Mittelholzer' s writing two ways of life, two opposing attitudes, 

are constantly juxtaposed: urban and rural, European and West Indian, 

foreign and local, intellectual and physical. This division forms the 

pattern for Mittelholzer' s life and for the lives of his characters. 

Often through sheer power of v/ill, he sought in his own life to 

integrate disparate factors. His attenpts led to failure, despair, an 



55 

obsession with death, and finally to death itself when he died rather 

mysteriously in a fire in the middle of a field in England on 6 May 

1965. 

The first of the generation which established V.'est Indian writing 

abroad in the 1950' s, Mittelholzer dedicated himself to a literary 

career. He wanted to become rich and famous by writing novels for the 

people of Britain to read and at a deeper level wanted to be recognized 

and accepted by his European "parents." W.O. Dow, a close friend of 

Mittelholzer' s wrote that: 

Anonymity was not for him, and his greatest test came when the 
publishers agreed to accept Corentyne Thunder , but suggested that, 
as Adolph Hitler had made Genran-sounding names mud in England, he 
should write under a nom de plume . The first work that had got so 
far — a temptation? No, not for Edgar A. Mittelholzer. Off went a 
cable. 'Refuse write under nom de plume. '2" 

Mittelholzer had decided veiry early in life to become a writer and 
pursued his goal relentlessly. As Donald Herdeck notes in his biograph- 
ical sketch of Mittelholzer, in spite of his early experience of 
rejection slips when he first went to London, he set himself the task of 

writing a certain number of words a day: so many on the subway going to 

30 
work, so many during tea break, so many on the way home. He stuck to 

his schedule and produced an impressive list of twenty-two novels, a 

short "fable," a travel book, an autobiography and numerous articles, 

short stories, and poems. His compulsion to write, however, resulted in 

some themes being overworked, especially that of the sins of the father 

being visited on the sons, or even on the daughters. He is also often 

preoccupied with sexual relationships, even on one occasion having a 

daughter seduced in the same manner that the mother had been. Donald 

Herdeck also comments that Mittelholzer' s sometimes rather lurid sexual 



56 

descriptions may have been one source of his difficulty in acquiring 
publishers and provida one more example of his own inner conflict. 

The theme of the divided ccnsciousnesa provides the prevailing 
pattern in Mittelholzer ' s work beginning with Corentyne Thunder (1941). 
He was so acutely aware of his own psychic division and his failure to 
integrate those parts that his characters suffer the same difficulties 
and failures, share his morbid concern with death, and increasingly 
indicate his personal involvement in his fiction. 

As Gilkes notes, the biggest problem of interpreting a Mittelholzer 

novel comes from the attempt to separate the overlapping layers of 

meaning and sift the real insights from the self-conscious and trivial 

incidents. Tl^ere is, however, at the base of all the writings a tragic 

vision which pushes Mittelholzer' s work from the merely narrow and 

trivial to the truly tragic. 

If there is a tragic element which rescues Mittelholzer' s work from 
the category of the merely trivial, then it is to be found in the 
Faustian theme that underscores so much of his writing: the split 
consciousness which, unless repaired through an associative 
effort — an "at-onement" of the Spirit and Flesh, Strength and 
Weakness, leads to depression and the consequent death-wish. -^-'■ 

Goethe could almost be speaking for Mittelholzer \jhen he has Faust say 

to Wagner: 

You are aware of only one unrest; 

Oh, never leam to know the other! 

Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast. 

And one is striving to forsake its brother. 

Unto the world in grossly loving zest, 

With clinging tendrils, one adheres; 

The other rises forcibly in quest 

Of rarefied ancestral spheres. 



32 



Like Mittelholzer, Brian Liddard of A Twinkling in the Twilight 
(1959) is a self-divided man who deliberately separates his head and 
heart, suffers from a rigid double psyche which leads to romantic 



57 

delusions, and finally succumbs to self-hatred and suicide. Brian 
Liddard follows the patterns set earlier in Faust , Heart of Darkness , 
and Death in Venice where the characters Faust, Kurtz, and Aschenbach 

crumble under the onslaughts of instinct and "its demons from 

33 
underground." 

One weak characteristic of Mittelholzer' s style emerges in A 

Morning at the Office (1950), where knowing he is writing primarily for 

non-West Indians, the author has a tendency to lecture his readers 

regarding basic history and attitudes of the area and barely manages to 

refrain from preaching. However, by being very direct in his 

descriptions of what West Indians take for granted, Mittelholzer 

prepares the groundwork for a reality which could become the basis of a 

34 
new and integrated vision of West Indian identity. 

The gifts of meticulous detail of A Morning at the Office also 
appears in Mittelholzer' s most ambitious work, the KayxJana trilogy: 
Children of Kaywana (1952), The Harrowing of Hubertus (1954), and 
Kaywana Blood (1958). The details are derived from a great deal of 
historical research, presented with impressive control of the complex 
relationships of the Groenwegel family in Guyana between 1612 and 1953, 
and presented through more than half a million words. The most 
important feature of this work is Mittelholzer' s creation of an 
awareness of national history in the Caribbean where before only a 
feeling of deprivation or history of colonial powers had existed. 

Because of his own views of "good" versus "bad" blood Mittelholzer 
often inadvertently destroys the humanity of his "socially unacceptable" 
characters by portraying their sadistic and often intense but cold 
sexuality. Gilkes summarizes these inner conflicts which indicate a 



58 

need for psychic integration: an inherited strain of "bad" blood leads 

to a degeneracy and eventually a death-wish from an inner division 

between strong and weak, spiritual and sensual. If this duality can be 

recognized and directed toward good, the result is a greater strength 

than was earlier possible. Mittelholzer, himself seeking psychic 

wholeness, projects his personal history onto the history of Guyana. 

Part African slave, part white slave owner, he projects the conflicting 

eleiaents of his own psyche on to his characters and at times seems 

thereby to weaken the novels. A close reading, however, shows the 

author to be aware of this and it in fact gives a central unity to the 

trilogy. Gilkes discusses Mittelholzer' s duality: 

For the conflict in the trilogy between 'strength' and 'weakness' 
is also the conflict between white and black, master and slave — the 
basis of that forlorn, sterile round of protest which, in erecting 
static biases of color or class, forces the West Indian to confront 
the 'white' world in an attempt at self-identification.-^-^ 

This is in fact the basic conflict found in Caribbean literature. 

The theme of psychic division is most obvious in the works of 

Mittelholzer and, in fact, provides the dominant theme for his novels. 

Through a constant pairing of personalities and their character traits 

Mittelholzer examines and depicts his philosophy of genetic taint and 

the resulting social difficulties. Of all West Indian authors he is the 

most emphatic in his attempts to "graft himself onto a European 

parent-stock" and the most sensational in his presentation of the 

attempts. His novels provide detailed analyses of representative 

figures of the various social and ethnic layers of society in the West 

Indies. His persistence and determination in the face of seemingly 

insurmountable odds paved the way for other writers to pursue the 



59 

"pleasant career" of writing as West Indians, of West Indians, and, 
increasingly, for West Indians. 

Nalpaul stands in stronj^ contrast to the often ovenvorked or even 
lurid style of Mittelholzer in which the author's personality is so 
entangled with his iinpassioned and violent characters that the reader 
feels the author must bleed along with them. In Naipaul's novels, a 
simple style, journalistic manner and abundance of satiric detail 
present West Indian problems from the safety of an uninvolved reader's 
own armchair. Naipaul's expertly drawn characters have no solutions and 
no hopes but move impressively through fascinating stories toward total 
psychic voids. His inner characters seek escape not only from emotional 
distress and psychic imbalance but from the very surroundings in which 
they exist. Their sterile and hostile worlds make them concerned only 
with acquiring possessions, not true understanding. Naipaul creates 
realistic figures who should have the inner resources to come together 
with other West Indians and fashion a better world, but they are unable 
to see beyond their own narrow psychic confines to do so. 

Lamming, on the other hand, combines local speech patterns into 
poetic prose to trace regional history. He believes, and shows through 
his characters, that a personal involvement with political events is 
necessary to survival. For this reason he writes "good" books which 
detail the external/internal struggles of West Indians as characterized 
by "G" of In the Castle of My Skin , who shows the difficulties faced by 
the creative imagination both in the West Indies and in exile. More 
positive than Naipaul, Lamming seeks a recognition and integration of 
the various cultural and ethnic elements that make up the West Indian 
heritage. Far from being an idealist, he depicts national and political 



60 

failures, but believes that through an open-minded approach to history 
men not only will be able to coaie to grips with their own psychic 
divifiions but will be able to heal social divisions as well. 

Wilson Harris shares the concern of Naipaul, Lamming, and 
Mittelholzer for an integrated and balanced West Indian psyche, and he 
is equally aware of the terrific costs resulting from a split conscious- 
ness. He goes further than these authors, however, in expressing 
stylistically the effects of that psychic division, in exploring its 
nature, and in proposing means for its integration. His novels seek to 
balance the parts of the psyche, and even to move beyond the West Indies 
to a hope for Universal Man. 

Critics agree that can's psychic division is the major theme of 
Caribbean literature. While other authors describe the anguish suffered 
by West Indians caught in apparently static social structures, Harris 
writes of the pain but offers raan hope instead of despair. Kaipaul, 
Lamming, and Mittelholzer used traditional English models for their 
works. Unable to break from traditional, rigid forms, they continue the 
pattern established by colonizers and primarily maintain the frame of 
mind of one colonized. Harris, however, has sought throughout his 
fiction to break those static molds, to free his fiction and himself 
from the entrapping forms imposed by outsiders. It is now time to 
examine Harris's techniques of stylistic liberation. 



Notes 
Ian Munro and Reinhard Sander, "George Lamming," in Kas-Kas; 



Interviews with Three Caribbean Writers in Texas (Austin, Texas: African 
and Afrc-American Research Institute, 1972), p. II. 

V.S. Naipaul, "The Regional Barrier," Tines Literary Supplement 
(15 August 1958), p. 38. 



61 

3 

Michael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), 

p. 141. 

4 

Michael Gilkes, "The Art of Derek Walcott," Public Lecture at the 

Latin American Center, University of Florida: Gainesville, Florida, 8 

July 1982. 

George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (London: Michael Joseph, 
1960), pp. 35-36. 

Bruce King, ed. , West Indian Literature (London: MacMillan Press, 
Ltd., 1960), pp. 6-7. 

Jane Kramer, "From the Third World: The Return of Eva Peron with 
'The Killings in Trinidad'," ( New York Book Review , 13 April 1980), p. 
30. 

g 

V.S. Naipaul as quoted in Paul Theroux, V.S. Naipaul: An 
Introduction to his Work (New York: Africana Publishing Corp., 1972), 
pp. 127-128. 

9 

Karl Miller, "V.S. Naipaul and the New Order," in Critics on 

Caribbean Literature , ed. Edward Baugh (London: George Allen and Unwin, 

1978), p. 75. 

Robert D. Hamner, V.S. Naipaul (New York: Twyane Publishers, 
Inc., 1973), p. 67. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society (London: New 
Beacon Pubs., 1967), p. 29. 

12 

Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity and Individual Consciousness in 

the Caribbean Novel , (Georgetown, Guyana: Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial 

Lecture Series, 1974), p. 42. 

13 

V.S. Naipaul in an interview with Adrian Rowe-Evans, Transition 

Ghana 8, No, 40 (Dec. 1971), pp. 50, 57 as quoted in Michael Gilkes, The 

West Indian Novel (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), p. 93. 

14 

Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile , p. 30. 

Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile , pp. 224-225. 

Kramer, "From the Third World," p. 32. 

Karl Miller, "V.S. Naipaul and the New Order," p. 82. 

18 

V.S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men (New York: MacMillan Co., 1967), p. 

240. 

19 

Ian Kunro, "George Lamming," in West Indian Literature , ed. Bruce 

King (London: MacMillan Press, Ltd., 1979), p. 126. 

20 

Ian Munro and Reinhard Sander, "George Lamming," p. 13. 



62 

O 1 III 

^ Ian Munro and Reinliard Sander, 'George Lanining, p. 11. 

Ian Munro, "The Iheme of Exile in George Lacming's In the Castle 
of My Skin , " World Literature Writte n in English , 20 (1971), p. 55. 

George Lairmiing, The E'aigrautc (London: Michael Joseph, 195A) , p. 
67. 

Ian Kunro, "George Lamming," p. 143. 

^^ Edgar Mittelholzer, A Swarthy Boy (New York: Putnam, 1963), p. 17 
as quoted in Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel 
(London: Longmans, 1975), p. xii. 

^^ Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. xii. 

27 

Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity , p. 10. 

"^^ Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity , p. 50. 

From a letter of tribute by W.O. Dow included in a catalog of 
Edgar Mittelholzer' s work, prepared by the Georgetown Public Library, 
Georgetov.Ti, Guyana, 1968, as quoted in Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and 
the Caribbean Novel , p. xiii. 

■^"^ Donald E. Herdeck, Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Eibliographical- 
Critical Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1979), 
p. 147. 

^^ Michael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel , p. 85. 

^■^ Goethe, Faus t trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Anchor Books, 
1963), p. 145. 

^^ Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity , p. 34. 

'^^ Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. xv. 

^^ Michael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel , p. 84. 



CHAPTER 3 



THE ROLE OF IMAGINATION IN CREATIVITY 

Though Harris incorporates in his novels many of the themes, 
character types, and landscapes used by other Caribbean authors, his 
vision, and the techniques he employs to achieve that vision, are 
unique. Committed to the view of the creative imagination as a liber- 
ating force, Harris joins such other visionary artists as Blake and 
Yeats in the quest for an imaginative transformation of a world 
dangerously caught in rigid and inauthentic patterns of thought and 
behavior. 

Even in his earliest work Harris was aware of the methods and 
attitudes shaping the fiction of other West Indian authors who based 
their novels on realistic details accumulated to form a picture of 
manners, conversations, situations, and settings which are, if unfamiliar 
to sophisticated readers abroad, very familiar to those who live in the 
West Indies. As was shown in Chapter 2, these portraits describe people 
through an individual span of life in a particular place and time; they 
yield "self-conscious and fashionable judgments, self-conscious and 
fashionable moralities." Their end result is to maintain the status 
quo. Harris believes that rather than allowing men to free themselves 
from the restrictive vision which has been created and maintained by a 



63 



64 
series of conquerors and conquered, these "comedies of manners" perpet- 
uate the repressive and suppressive way of the world. Any tension which 
emerges is a tension of individuals on an accepted plane of existence 
v-'hich, the reader bacoraes convinced, is inevitable. 

While Naipaul and the others write of the "void" in society, the 
historylessness of the West Indies, Harris takes a more positive 
approach. He believes that no social order is inevitable or ultimate 
and that an individual life, however brief, need not be identified with 
the oppressive conditions others describe. Harris believes instead that 
through imaginative fiction it is possible to see beyond immediate 
conditions, beyond the one-sided view of human life and restricted 
vision of human capacities, beyond the worlds created in other authors 's 
novels. As Ivan Van Sertima explains, Harris's use of the term 
"conscription of light" suggests a one-sided view of life, 

a freeze of vision. It is the conscription of whatever passes for 
truth at a given time or in a given situation to serve as the 
ruling light on behalf of a particular cause or race, culture or 
order. It is the tendency to put things into fixed and immutable 
categories under the illusion that by so doing one can master and 
govern reality. It leads ultimately to a stasis of values for it 
fixes upon and idealizes, sometimes to the point of idolatry, some 
partial aspect or plane of reality, investing it with a timeles^ 
and absolute order, as though it were the final shape of truth. 

In Tradition, the Writer and Society Harris uses the example of 

Aztecs who sacrificed hearts torn out of the breasts of living human 

beings to show the horrible contradictions which developed between men 

3 

who built a world and the world which forced them into helplessness. 

It is this very helplessness which is the main theme of the novels 
Naipaul and others write. In the same essay Harris explains how he 
believes that when exploited man, whether ancient Aztec, modern 
Caribbean, or any other man, "becomes aware of the original rhythms 



65 

within the oppression of the world," he can bare the contradictions he 

perceives iu a manner which may be terrifying but contain the secret for 

4 
changing them. He believes that the cleavage that exists between 

historical conventions and the arts nay be resolved through the arts of 
the imagination, a resolution he seeks through explorations of new forms 
of the novel, his unusual use of synchronicity, the shaman figure, and 
the "eye of the scarecrow." 

Harris believes that creativity in art or criticism is never easy, 
but in a world of accepted or static values, like that portrayed in the 
novels of a Naipaul, or even a Conrad, creativity becomes increasingly 
difficult since its very nature is a disruption of already existing 
subjective platforms. For this reason, creating a new v/orld structure 
in fiction or the physical world calls for a profound effort on the 
artist's part to change man's vision by revealing those factors which, 
when placed in proper combination, produce a new, unified, and more 
positive "architecture" of existence. Through a combination of hidden 
and obvious, material and immaterial elements, and through the use of a 
truly creative imagination, Harris believes man can change his tradi- 
tional, static, and frequently oppressive world to create in its stead a 
purposive, vital, universal and manifestly human community. He is not 
advocating the overthrow of any form of government, per se , for that 
would merely imply replacing one form of tyranny with another. In 
Harris's terms this would be a change of polarizations but not an 
improvement. Wliat Harris is advocating is a universal realization that 
we are in fact succumbing to artificial poles, allowing ourselves to be 
ruled by a "static gestalt" rather than partaking in an open dialogue 
with possibilities. I shall return to this issue in the next chapter 



66 
and discuss it in the context of Harris's remarks in the appendix 
interviews. 

The focus of Harris's novels, then, is on this opening of 
consciousness and the forging of a new human identity. Man, Harris 
believes, has an "architecture of consciousness" and inhabits "shapes of 
time." In his essay "History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and the 
Guianas" Harris discusses how man's architecture of consciousness 
yields the shapes of an age. He believes that by applying great concen- 
tration to the structure of an age, nian may be able to discover "comer- 
stones" which will allow him to create a new and liberating architecture. 
The new architecture should contain "doors" through which man can pass 
rather than serve as oppressive and static "frames" which trap him and 
"eclipse" his potential. Only by means of an open dialogue with appear- 
ances and his values will man be able to move beyond the previously 
accepted limitations of society. This open dialogue is enhanced by 
increased use of man's subjective iraaginatica; an imagination which is 
able to create and express not only new forms of consciousness, a new 
architecture of consciousness, but a new form of fiction to describe it. 
There is something akin to Blake's distinction between the corporeal and 
the visionary eye in Harris, as well as a search like Blake's search for 
an imaginative escape from inauthentic "self-hood" into authentic 
"identity." For, close as Harris's "static gestalt" sometimes seems to 
be to Marxian notions of "reif ication," it is far closer to Blake's view 
of a fallen existence that requires an "apocalyptic" rather than a 
"political" redemption. 

Harris argues that, rather than being a void without history, the 
West Indies has an overburden of sheer raw material of life. Waves of 



67 

historical movements from various continents cams so rapidly that West 
Indians were unable to digest the shocks. By reaching back through 
these crises of history to find latent, unrealized huraan capacities 
within the clash of cultures and movements of people into South America 
and the West Indies, Harris hopes to create an art based on "subsistence 
of memory," an art which will allow men to increase their imagination's 
perspectives of resources. 

In Harris's fiction, then, the state of mind or imagination of his 

9 
characters corresponds to the concept of "place"' : the monumental 

architecture of old world city-scapes equates with rigid, ingrained 
habits of thought and acts as an impediment to open, authentic conscious- 
ness. However, jungles and savannahs, underdeveloped spaces devoid of 
architectural monuments, are positive symbols representing an opportune 
deprivation or dispossession from which comes the possibility for 
fulfilling man's previously eclipsed potentials. In the tension betvzeen 
material and spiritual worlds, between urban and natural spaces, lies 
the significance of the landscape for Harris. It becomes simultaneously 
a "dream" and an "actual stage" and serves as a prime mover to conscious- 
ness because in it man discovers a reflection of his own unconscious 
state with which he must eventually come to terms. 

The map of the savannahs was a dream. The names Brazil and Guiana 
were colonial conventions I had known from childhood. I clung to 
them now as to a carious necessary stone and footing, even in my 
dream, the ground I knew I must not relinquish. They were an 
actual stage, a presence, however mythical they seemed to the 
universal and the spiritual eye. They were as close to me as my 
ribs, the rivers and the flat land, the mountains and heartland I 
intimately saw. I could not help cherishing my symbolic map, and 
my bodily prejudice like a well-known room and house of 
superstition within which I dwelt. I saw this kingdom of man 
turned into a colony and battleground of spirit, a priceless 
tempting jewel I dreamed I possessed. 



68 

It is typical of Harris's style to have overlapping, interconnected, and 

sinultaneously human as well as landscape elements. Throughout his 

novels the forest becoraeG the "soil of nemory," an aboriginal cradle 

for mankind and landscape within which man must lose himself to find 

himself. As Michael Gilkes has written: 

Ihe social and geographical contrast between Guyana's extensive, 
densely wooded and mountainous (but virtually unpopulated) interior 
and the overcrowded main city on the alluvial coast provides Harris 
with a natural metaphor for man's highly developed, but 
superficial, outer existence and his neglected, underdeveloped 
inner being. 

Harris believes that we need to "unravel" our garments of history 
if we are to be able to detach from our pasts in a meaningful way and 
reach down to these neglected inner beings. Harris believes that only 
when we achieve freedom from the negative aspects of history, along with 
the subjugation of race and culture which they involve, will we be able 
to discover a true unity of mankind and be able to express it in our 
arts. 

However, when we widen our view of race and nationalism we must 
also broaden our manner of questioning and searching. Harris believes 
he does this when he uses what appear initially to be extravagant 
diction and images in his experiments with the novel, because for him 
words must be closely relevant to dialogue, narrative, setting and 
action. What appears at first cor fusing becomes clearer when the reader 
realizes that Harris is creating new forms in language and the novel to 
meet the challenges of his vision of a broader and more heterogeneous 
society. 

Harris has not, of course, been the only author to create new forms 
in the novel to reflect the changes he saw in his society. His novels 
began lo appear in the early 1960's, a time crucial for both West Indian 



69 

and English fiction, when many writers ceased to believe in literary 
traditions which had been handed down to them. Catastrophic events in 
history and tremendous scientific advances left many writers, and 
especially West Indians, in a psychic void. Authors like John Osborne, 
of what has come to be known as the "kitchen sink school," reacted to 
the loss of certainty and stability in the world by turning to narrow 
and highly specific realism. Beckett and others resorted to experiments 
in the absurd. These experiments may be technically brilliant and 
innovative but frequently undermine the very purpose of art for Harris: 
to widen man's vision and to provide him with the means of freeing 
himself from racial and cultural restrictions, to create new and more 
meaningful societies which are able to take advantage of all possibili- 
ties, even those previously eclipsed. Harris describes this problem in 
Tradition, the Writer and Society ; 

It is here that the blighted puppetry of the novel and the 
theatre which invests in the absurdity of sacrifice, becomes — in 
spite of itself at times, in spite of the reactionary echoes of the 
past — the protest of feeling against that unfeeling acceptance of 
destiny which is promulgated in the name of service or tradition. 
It is an unconscious protest against tradition , when a tradition 
hardens into the very premature convulsion all tradition should 
instinctively seek to overthrow in the name of an act of 
fulfillment, however obscure. It is idle to deny the danger of 
infection which always approaches the practitioners of the art of 
the absurd, who may themselves merely 'stiffen in a rented house.' 

Harris believes that authors like Naipaul only solidify cultural 

structures by mirroring the very partial images which trap us. As was 

shown in Chapter 2, though many West Indians of Harris's generation see 

themselves in radical terras, they consolidate in fictional form and 

subject the m.ost conventional and documentary techniques of the novel. 

Though they write of political and social changes these authors are 

unable to free themselves from local biases and social restraints. In 



70 

"A Talk on Che Subjective Imagination" Harris explains that man cannot 

live in a world that is wholly given, wholly objective, deprived of 

community, and still relate to a heterogeneous scale and truly subjective 

imagination. Because most West Indian authors are unable to free even 

their form.s of fiction, they are not able to free their societies or to 

move beyond mere criticism to positive and constructive suggestions. 

Ironically, Naipaul used a reporter's style but suggested that there 

could be an advance toward an honest exploration of West Indian middle 

class problems and depiction only when "writers cease to think about 

letting down their sides," something he, in fact, has been unable to do. 

In Ascent to Omai Harris describes his own goal in the novel: 

My intention, in part, is to repudiate the vicarious 
novel — vicarious death-mask, sex-mask — where the writer, following 
a certain canon of clarity, claims to enter the most obscure and 
difficult terrain of experience without incurring a necessary 
burden of authenticity, obscurity or difficulty at the same time. 
The truth is, I believe, that the novel has been conditioned 
for so long by comedy of manners, it overlooks an immense poetry of 
original and precarious features which, in fact, we can only begin 
to expose again by immersing ourselves in the actual difficulty of 
the task; by immersing ourselves in language as omen, as an 
equation of experience. 

Harris does not write in the style of the "novel of persuasion" and 
believes in a unity of humankind; he, therefore, has no "side to let 
down." As he discusses in Tradition, the Writer and Society , he seeks 
imaginative growth and enlargement as measured on a "scale" or 
" ladder" ^^. Such growth is indicated in his fiction by words and images 
associated with man's growing awareness, his "drama of living conscious- 
ness"; a drama in which he believes all writers must be involved both 
passively and creatively. Within his own world, Harris sets out to 
create a form of fiction which will express the dynamic nature of 
community which he seeks. For him the novel should be an intense 



71 

visualization within which he enters overlapping potentials of nature to 

break through social polarizations. As he writes in "History, Fable and 

Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas": 

The essential objectivity or life of art does not reside in the 
given historical prejudices of the artist or poet or novelist or 
sculptor but in what is virtually intuitive and subconscious 
terrain that may acquire its conscious application later in the 
extensive re-appraisal stage by critical intelligences who may be 
better placed to appreciate the intuitive breakthrough in a work of 
art executed within a certain eye on prisons of history. This view 
of art as an extraordinary drama of consciousness whose figurative 
meaning lies beyond its de facto historical climate is anathema to 
the materialist or conventional realist, though I know that Lukacs, 
a Marxist critic, toyed with the idea and that the Irish poet Yeats 
attempted to articulate it when he wrote 'Man can embody truth but 
he cannot know it.' 

In Tradition, the Writer and Society (1967) Harris also examines 

the subjective/objective dichotomy in human experience which is central 

to creative and critical achievement. He believes that modern man is 

foundering between subjective illusion and objective process and that 

only through an intuitive fusion and creative force can both subjective 

1 8 
and objective progress be gained. This dichotomy is often expressed 

in his novels by pairing of words (for example eternity/season, 
virgin/whore). Apparently contradictory at first, the word pairs reveal 
basic connections essential to positive human growth. Through his 
unusual forms of fiction Harris is trying to show us not only an 
alternative world, but also the imaginative means by which he believes 
we can achieve it. 

In "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination" Harris probes the nature 
of the relationship between imagination and creativity in literature: 

Clearly there is a signal lack of imagination daring to probe the 
nature of roots of community beyond fixed or static boundaries. 
Also there is a signal lack of imaginative daring to probe the 
function of roots as a criterion of creativity and capacity to 
digest and liberate contrasting spaces. When I say digest and 
liberate, it seems to me that any wholesale digestion and 



72 

liberation of contrasting spaces obviously is a monolithic 
illusion. Or a monolithic imperative. In the same token, 
wholesale liberation could be monolithic Utopia. And yet it seems 
one thinks all the time in terns like these because, to a major 
extent, we are dominated by what I call homogeneous imperative. We 
are dominated by that, and therefore fail to see that that 
homogeneous imperative very often masks or conceals from us the 
heterogeneous roots of a community. 1^ 

Harris draws a distinction between artificially drawn qualities of 

homogeneity depicted in most novels and the actual homogeneity of 

archetypal forms. Jolande Jacobi could easily have been speaking of 

Harris in The Psychology of Jung : 

He who speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; 
he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the 
idea he is trying to express out of the occasional and the 
transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring. He transmutes our 
personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, thereby evoking in us 
all those beneficient forces that have always enabled mankind to 
find a refuge from every peril to outlive the longest night. This 
is the secret of effective art. -^^ 

According to Harris the effective artist or creative writer both 

transcends and undermines generally accepted social values since the 

truth which he pursues is not self-evident and is neither purely 

circumscribed nor purely produced by economic circumstances. Indeed, 

Harris believes that a society's economic homogeneity as described or 

advocated by others is an illusion, especially when used as an 

artificial method for regulating the social or moral opportunities of 

V. -1 21 
those It claim.s to help. 

Perhaps because an increase in imaginative arts, especially in the 

West Indies, often involved a reaction against the economic structure of 

colonial society and occurred in conflict with long-held intellectual 

and legal concepts, the poet or artist is sometimes symbolized by Anancy 

the Spider, a trickster figure brought from Africa. The truly creative 

artist must utilize elements of past times and generations, of victor 



and vicCirr., and walk a tightrope toward change by becoming a shaman 
figure capable of a new, creative vision. When he stretches his 
abilities to the limit the artist becomes, in Harris's vocabulary, the 
"eye of the scarecrow", which identifies with submerged authority and 

eclipsed possibilities, and which nust conceal as well as elaborate arts 

22 
of the imagination. The use of the "eye of the scarecrow" and role of 

the trickster/shaman are important to Harris's concept of a truly 

creative artist and are discussed at length in the appendices. For 

Harris, the artist stands at the "heart of the lie of community and the 

truth of community," and must bear the possibility that society may try 

to crush him; but through the trickster figure, the trickster gateway, 

however, can emerge the "hope for a profoundly compassionate society 

committed to freedom within a creative scale." In his essay "The 

Interior of the Novel" he describes the artist's role: 

Within the new art of fiction we are attempting to explore a 
vacancy in nature v/ithin which agents appear who are translated one 
by the other and who (in a kind of serial illumination) reappear 
through each other, inhabit each other, reflect the burden of 
necessity, push each other to plunge into the unknown, into the 
translatable, transmutable legacies of history. Their uniqueness 
lies in this curious openness to originality as well as change: a 
constitution of humility in which the author himself is an agent in 
a metaphysical dimension compounded of losses and gains: and behind 
him — as a fantastic, obscure, compelling necessity to express 
something to do with 'one' and 'agent.' 24 

The author becomes a complex ghost of his own ancestral landscape, 

history, or works. Kis poem or novel becomes in Harris's terms 

25 
"subsistence of memory," and the reality of his existence as "agent" 

or "clown" turns upon his faith in the resources and powers of the 

artist and eventually of man generally to invoke a "presence" within an 

"absence." Herman Melville was able to function as such an agent to 

create Benito Cereno which, in Harris's view, is both the product of 



74 

subjective imagination and a prophetic work. Harris sees the novel as 

aii index of the coKmanity vhich contained a coming terror, caught the 

tide of that community and swept for'.'/ard into another century. " Benito 

Cereno secreted a pressure for a revised 'canvas of existence' before 

the pressure of fate, pressure of value turned into bias, became a 

catastrophe." Harris argues that: 

It was with vrorks of disturbing imagination such as Foe's Arthur 
Gordon Pym and James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner , both 
published in the 1830 's, Melville's Benito Cereno , in the middle of 
the 19th century, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness at the beginning 
of the 20th century, that the logic of man-made symmetry or 
absolute control over diversity, the logic of benign or liberal 
order, disclosed hideous biases within a context of heterogeneous 
bodies and pigmentations. For the truth was that the liberal 
homogeneity of a culture becomes a ready-made cornerstone upon 
which to construct an order of conquest and by degrees 'the horror, 
the horror' was intuitively manifest. Conquest is the greatest 
evil of soul mankind or womankind inflicts on itself and on 

27 
nature. ^' 

It is this false concept of social homogeneity or unrealized bias 

that Harris seeks not only to avoid in his own fiction but bring to the 

attention of others. Instead of rejecting society or being over\jhelmed 

by its conflicts as are some other authors, Hc.rris seeks to look through 

society to see not only its horrors but its possibilities for change, to 

turn contradictions and conflicts into fertile ground for progress, and 

transform a prison into a "womb of creative change." Because the writer 

is the means by which a society can progress from bias and stasis to 

change he must "digest contrasting spaces" of his society. His writing 

is no longer a pane of glass through which society looks at others or a 

mirror to reflect its own status quo; instead it calls attention to 

itself and its creator. In Harris's later novels the protagonist is an 

artist like Da Silva (in Da Silva Da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness and 

Tree of the Sun), or a writer like Clive Goodrich (in Black Marsden ) , or 



75 

a combination of bonh as is Frank VJellingtou (in Genesis o£ the Clo^'ms ). 
The protagonist is forced to recognize his own hidden being or the 
duality of another, which then allows him to perceive and face his own 
duality. Once this duality is recognized the protagonist is able to 
move tov;ard his own fulfillment and point the way toward greater 
fulfillment for the entire community. The character is often unaware of 
the magnitude of his own creativity and potential, but the reader sees 
beyond that limited vision to a greater hope and creativity. 

A subjective imagination then becomes simultaneously the cause and 
the subject of Harris's art, the created and creating function capable 
of transforming man's world and his responses to it. Harris explores 
the creative power of the imagination, its innumerable possibilities of 
development and self-renewal, and its ability to change relationships of 
opposition into relationships of reciprocity. Like Victor, who suffers 
nearly total character disintegration in Ascent to Omai , or Da Silva in 
Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated VJildemess , who must come to grips with 
his relationship to the women in his life, characters in Harris's novels 
are shocked into recognizing the limitations imposed on their conscious- 
ness by the prejudice and bias of their societies. This recognition 
frees them from conservative elements and allows them to move forward. 
Again, Harris is diametrically opposed to most authors in his view of 
the inherent potentials for man within these difficult and divisive 
situations: 

There appears to me to exist today all the proportions as before of 
a terrifying cleavage in all the psyche of man standing once again 
(as in the Renaissance or the Middle Ages) upon the brink of a 
great change or equally great catastrophe. 28 

This social cleavage and the drama of consciousness which describes 

it are conveyed to Harris's readers through a great feeling of agitation 



76 
created by pairing words with their opposites in gnarled and tv7isted 
syntax which startles the mind and shakes conventional expectations. 
Inages are created throush metaphor, simile, and action which detach 
themselves from superficial meanings, and which create a depth and range 
of reality to be measured on a new and visionary scale. For Harris, the 
improper use of language communicates "dead" reality via static or 
frozen forms, v/hile the proper use of language shatters that dead 
reality to present in a Blake/Yeats sense the "inapprehension of 
substance," the living reality which underlies or demonstrates the unity 
of being. 

Harris began his search for the stylistic means to express his 
concept of this unity of being in the 1940' s and 1950' s in Guyana with a 
small group of writers who met regularly at the house where he lived. 
They read their current works, responded to each others' attempts and 
provided each other with the stimulus to continue writing. A.J. Seymour 
described the manner in which Harris probed in and through language and 
words to create new forms: 

Sometimes during a meeting we would discover that Wilson Harris was 
evolving a series of personal meanings on a particular word in the 
development of his private vocabulary. There are at least three 
that come to mind as teasing his imagination one time or 
another — grotesque, caricature, and scarecrow. In our discussions, 
we would hear Wilson begin to use the particular word fairly 
regularly, as if he was investing it with a full spectrum of 
meaning, and the word was taking on associations for him far beyond 
the agreed scope of common peripheral understanding. He was 
playing the lover with these words and meanings, and w-e would be 
amused and poke fun at him over his new love-affair. 

Seymour believes that this Internalization of words was associated 

with the technique Harris developed of the principle of the imploded 

consciousness, the tapping of the pre-consciousness , the freeing of rich 

fluid images, memories and feelings to be translated into metaphor and 



77 

31 
word. Harris did what he expects his characters to do: he went deep 

into himself in an agonizing memory review to come to an appreciation 

and reconciliation of the parts of nan's psyche, lie sought an inward 

dialogue and the language to express it so that conventional modes of 

thought and expression could be exploded, like his language, and allow 

inner and outer world to be integrated rather than at odds as they are 

in the world today. Harris defined this concept of implosion: 

Implosion becomes a scale of reciprocities and alteration of vision 
from within rather than imposed by geography or history from 
without. 

Harris believes that only when man comas to terms with himself and 
his environment will he be able to use rather than be destroyed by the 
powers they both contain. This theme of destruction, of man's fall, is 
not new in literature but in Harris's fiction it is no simple intellec- 
tual fantasy which it seems the reader passively observes from the safe 
ground of an armchair as one does when reading Naipaul's fiction. 
Characters in a Harris novel fall and spin, experience breakdown of self 
and world, while the reader participates through the breaking and broken 
ground of the language itself, through startling images, relationships, 
and juxtapositions which upset customary associations and reflexes. 
Changes in a character's perception are amplified in what are often 
disturbing ways through an explosive flux of images that constantly 
annihilate and disassemble the given and free the imagination from its 
static modes of thought, from rigid values and tyrannical faiths of any 
one time, reality, or identity. 

Three recurrent devices, or im.age structures, or concepts (each of 
these descriptions is, at separate m.oments and in separate contexts, 
appropriate) are of particular help to Harris in his quest for the 



78 
achievement of psychic wholeness. There are: synchronicity , shamanisn, 
and the eye of the scarecrow. Though the concept of synchronicity was 
not invented by Harris or even by Jung who gave it that narae, it is 
important to understanding their theories, and especially important to a 
full comprehension of Harris's novels. Synchronicity has been traced 
back in time and use to primitive cultures, but, as Harris and Jung 
argue, it has important applications for modern technological man. 
Synchronicity haunts Harris's novels rather than appearing in specific 
and identifiable contexts, as do shamanism and the eye of the scarecrow. 
Though shamanisn is not unique to Harris's novels, his use of the 
concept is. In contrast, however, the term "the eye of the scarecrow" 
is unique to Harris's work and appears frequently both directly and 
conceptually. Understanding these three key terms will facilitate an 
understanding of Harris's philosophy as it appears through his fiction, 
essays, and interviews, and the next chapter, therefore, seeks to 
interpret some of the meanings and implications of these terms, 
particularly in relation to such novels as Black Marsden , Companions of 
the Day and Night , Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Viilderness , Genesis of 
the Clowns , and The Tree of the Sun . 

Notes 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the VJriter and Society , p. 29. 

^ Ivan Van Sertima, "Into the Black Hole, A Study of the Novel 
Companions of the Day and Night ," unpublished manuscript nomination to 
the Nobel Prize Committee, January 1976, p. 17. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 19. 

Wilson Harris, T radition, the Writer and Society , p. 15. 

^ Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and 
the Guianas," Caribbean Quarterl y 16, No. 2 (June 1970), p. 32. 



79 

Michael Gilkes's Wilson Karris and tbe Caribbean Novel is 
important here. In addition to discussing Harris in relation to 
alchemy, he has connected Harris to a visionary tradition that includes 
Blake, Swedenborg, Yeats, Jung and Eliade. 

^ Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 21. 

Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 21. 

9 

Nathaniel Mackey, "Limbo, Dislocation, Phantom Limb: Wilson 

Harris and the Caribbean Occasion," Criticism 22, No. 1 (Winter 1980), 

p. 60. 

VJilson Harris, Palace of the Peacock (London: Faber and Faber, 
1960), p. 20. 

Wilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," Conference on 
Commonwealth Literature , ed Margaret F^utherford (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus 
University, 1971), p. 144. 

19 

" Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel , p. 4. 

13 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 26. 

Wilson Harris, "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination," New 
Letters 40, No. 1 (Oct. 1973), p. 42. 

Wilson Harris, Ascent to Omai (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 34, p. 36. 

Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 26. 

18 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 7. 

Wilson Harris, "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination," p. 37-38. 

20 

Jolande Jacobi, The Psychology of Jung (London: Routledge and 

Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1964), p. 24. 

2 1 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 60. 

Harris's use of the "eye of the scarecrow" will be discussed at 
greater length in Chapter 4; for a complete transcript of the previously 
unpublished interview see the appendix. 

^^ Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 16. 

Wilson Harris, "The Interior of the Novel: Amerindian/European/- 
African Relations," National Identity , ed. K.L. Goodwin (London: 
Heinemann, 1968), p. 146. 

2 c: 

" Wilson Harris, "The Interior of the Novel," p. 147. 



96. 



80 

Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas: Intervievs v;ith Three Caribbean Writers 
in Texas , eds. Ian Munro and E.einhard Sander (Austin, Texas: African and 
Afro-American Research Institute, University of Texas, 1972), p. 54. 

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on which Heart of Darkness Stands," 
in Explorations , ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 
1981), p. 136. 

Wxlson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 57. 

^^ W.J. Howard, "Wilson Harris's Guiana Quartet: From Personal Myth 
to National Identity," Ariel 1, No. 1 (Jan. 1970), p. 50. 

^*^ A.J. Seymour, "Wilson Harris and the Novel 1966-1976," 
Independence 10: Guyanese Writing 1966-1976 , (Georgetown, Guyana: n.p., 
1976), p. 11. 

31 

Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas , p. 51. 

32 

Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas , p. 51. 



CHAPTER 4 

THREE STRUCTURING IDEAS IN UILSON HARRIS'S FICTION 

Syncronicity , the shaman, and the eye of the scarecrow are three 
key devices Harris uses in his fiction as a way of bringing to our 
attention patterns of psychic disintegration taking place in the minds 
of his characters and, by implication, in the minds of all men who 
suffer from a divided consciousness. The careful reader, alerted by the 
author's use of these devices or concepts to trace the disintegration 
and later reintegration of the psyche, may become aware of the possible 
relevance of such ideas to his own life. For if Harris's characters 
learn to recognize patterns of synchronicity , and to see beyond the 
immediate patterns to greater patterns, if they learn to accept and make 
use of shair^n figures which can lead man to an improved condition 
previously not possible, and if they begin to see with the eye of the 
scarecrow through the limitations previously imposed on them to more 
fulfilling possibilities beyond, then perhaps the reader can also learn, 
and more easily than the characters, to move out of the restrictive, 
static social forms toward an improved world conmiunity. 

Though Harris's characters become increasingly aware of their 
divided consciousness as they endure traumas and seek renewal, they are 
often less aware of patterns of existence and influences on their lives 
and psyches than is the perceptive reader. Synchronicity appears in 

81 



82 
Black Karsdea , for exaiuple, but Tenby is only vaguely aware o£ it; the 
eye of the scarecrow appears to Prudence Solman in Tumatumari and helps 
her move toward greater understanding yet she is not fully av/are of it 
either; certainly most of the characters in Harris's novels are unaware 
of the shauianistic role played by Idiot i:ameless. Black Marsden and 
others as they grope toward psychic integration. Understanding these 
terms helps the reader move toward greater comprehension of the novels 
and appreciation of the originality of Harris's style. 

Synchronicity, the first of three structuring ideas to be discussed 
in this chapter, was not a word coined by Harris but was used earlier by 

C.G. Jung and Anton Ehrenzweig and can be traced in concept back to the 

2 
Lacondon Indians of Central America. 

To explain his use of the term, Harris cites the example Jung gives 
of the synchronicity that occurred when one of his patients told him of 
a dream of a beetle not found in that part of the world. V/hile the 
patient was telling Jung her dream there was a tapping on the window. 
When Jung opened it he found the beetle though no one knew how it came 
to arrive at that moment. Harris sees the synchronistic elements here 
as 1) the woman telling Jung of her logically structured dream; and 2) 
the beetle suddenly appearing at that moment from another area. 

An important distinction must be made here between synchronicity 
and synchronism. Synchronism is merely the coincidence in time of two 
events. As first used by Jung in 1930, synchronicity, however, refers 

to coinciding events which exist in an acausal relationship that can 

3 
only be verified at a later time and which have the same or similar 

meaning. This coincidence of events nay take the form of inner 

perceptions of dreams, visions, hunches, or forebodings with other 



83 

events occurring in the past, present, or future. According to Jung the 
explanation for the synchronistic phenoirienon is an a priori and causally 
inexplicable knowledge based on an order of the world which is indepen- 
dent of man's will and in which archetypes play the role of ordering 
factors. Though people mocked Jung at first for using the synchronicity 
idea, he did not create it and was not the only theorist to deal with 
it. Anton Enrenzweig discusses synchronicity in The Hidden Order of Art 
(1953), and anthropologists currently study its uses for dream interpre- 
tation among the Lacondon Indians of Central America who interpret their 
dreams in terms of correspondences rather than cause and effect relation- 
ships. 

Jung believed that the meaningful coincidence of inner image and 
outer event revealed the spiritual and corporeal aspects of the 
archetype. As he explains in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche ; 

Synchronistic events rest on the simultaneous occurrence of two 
different psychic states. One of them is the normal, probable 
state (i.e., the one that is causally explicable), and the other, 
the critical experience, is the one that cannot be derived causally 
from the first. . . In all these cases and others like them there 
seems to be an a priori causally inexplicable knowledge of a 
situation which at the time is unknowable. Synchronicity therefore 
consists of two factors: a) an unconscious dream/image comes into 
consciousness either directly (i.e. literally) or indirectly 
(symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or 
premonition; b) an objective situation coincides with this content. 
The one is as puzzling as the other. How does the unconscious 
image arise, and how the coincidence? ^ 

Jung believed that to the triad of classical physics — space, time, 

and causality — should be added the synchronicity factor which possesses 

properties that "m-ay help to clear up the body-soul problem." Most 

important to him was the concept of the causeless, meaningful orderedness 

that could throw light on the psychophysical parallelism. As Jolande 

Jocobi explains in his study of Jung: 



84 

For physis and psyche may be regarded as two aspects of the same 
thing, ordered according to a meaningful parallelism; they are, as 
it vrere, 'superimposed' one on the other; they are synchronous and, 
in their cooperation, not understandable on the basis of causality 
alone. But this 'acausal-orderedness, ' as Jung calls the 
unconscious factors, is nothing other than the archetype, when it 
becomes perceptible to the conscious mind. [It] is the 
introspectively recognizable form of the a priori psychic 
orderedness. ' 

Central to the works of Wilson Harris is the idea that, coexisting 

with and possibly outside of time, there is some consciousness that is 

"unruined" and greater than human consciousness. In Tradition, the 

Writer and Society Harris explains his theory that occasionally human 

consciousness becomes aware of the unruined consciousness through 

unexpected, sometimes apparently supernatural intimations, which take 

the form of parallels, correspondences, coincidences, continuities, 

premonitions, and intuitions. Harris believes that it is possible to 

become aware of these tenuous elements of unruined consciousness which 

are capable of transmuting man's life and which, in fact, correspond to 

the concept of archetype Jung uses: the introspectively recognizable 

Q 

form of an a priori psychic orderedness. Harris points toward this 

concept in Tradition, the Writer and Society when he says that the 

"exploitation of natural rhythms" is a means of discovering the secrets 

of the universe and that the liberating function of art is to speak in 

primordial images. 

Now, it is not an easy matter to see the human being today. So 
many walls fall between us and our fellows. Money, myth, and 
numerous obsessions. Yet when we look at the human we must be 
prepared not to overlook these obsessions but to work them into the 
structure of art so that all these levels of man are present. It 
is the only way we can come close to the real power of man, by 
showing the interaction of all the levels of his life, thereby not 
only baring his conflict, but the rhythms within the welter of his 
existence. These rhythms, being after all the source of man's 
generation of energy yesterday and today, are also the source of 
man's energy — tomorrow. The real hope for mi\n lies not in promises 



85 

of splendour or in virtuosity but in the revelation of original and 
authentic rhythms within the gloomy paradox of the world. 

The existence of such original and authentic rhythms has been the 

subject of literature and comiaenCary going back to the beginnings of 

recorded history, as Harris indicates further along in the same essay. 

The distinction, that Ruth Benedict makes, in her analysis of our 
social structure as related to primitive civilizations ( Patterns of 
Culture ) , between Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies, signifies 
only the end to which rhythms were put and the kind of civilization 
that developed. That distinction in itself does not attempt to 
posit a preconception before rhythm but points to the kind of 
insights and illusions, altering into fresh patterns in order to 
cope with each accretion in material and insight. However 
overwhelming the problem for society, the persistence or discovery 
of new or original rhythms justified the hope for a change or a 
solution since the creative powers of man still continued intact .^^ 

These rhythms and synchronicity are tied together in Harris's 

interview: 

What [synchronicity] discloses is that there are connections 
between apparently intact, water-tight areas of experience. That 
images that seem to be total and sovereign are parts of a greater 
whole, and that this greater whole will remain a ceaseless, 
haunting capacity which we pursue. But, in pursuing that greater 
whole, we revise our conceptions of the images that begin to 
constitute themselves in the parts of that whole; so you begin to 
make connections where you never dreamt connections existed. -'-■'■ 

In the same interview Harris gives an example of synchronicity in 

Black Marsden in relation to the John Hornby figure. There are actually 

two Hornby's; an historical John Hornby who disappeared and is recorded 

in anthologies, and the Harris John Hornby. The historical figure has a 

sort of legendary position; he is, according to Harris, a kind of 

"solitary figure up in the stars." Harris wanted to create an explorer 

who would disappear in the Canadian wilderness and, opening an anthology, 

came upon the name of John Hornby. The Hornby Harris created is aware 

of the historical Hornby; speculating on his own place in space and 

time, in what he calls the "very boot of humanity," the fictional 



86 
Hornby realizes that, unlike the h.istorical Hornby whose name he shares, 
he's "unsung, unknown, and unheralded." VvTien the fictional Hornby goes 
out ii'.to the wilderness into the snow, he leaves his cabin behind but 
looks back and sees it in the distance. He can't get at the actual 
cabin any longer but he has a sense of a cabin descending from the sky. 

Black Marsden was published in 1972. In 1977 when the Russian 
satellite crashed in Canada, Jim Howard, one of Harris's friends and 
critics, wrote to tell him that an expedition in pursuit of the last 
journey of John Hornby had stumbled upon some bits of wreckage from the 
satellite. The synchronist theme varies slightly here in that, since 
years had passed, it's not a simultaneous connection. Nevertheless, as 
Harris explains in the interview, there are three parallel lines: the 
first is the actual Hornby who disappeared into the wilderness; the 
second is Harris's Hornby; and the third appears when Howard writes to 
say that if the novel had appeared a year after the expedition people 
could legitimately have said that Karris had been influenced by the 
fallen satellite in shaping the novel. The synchronist connection 
occurs when the three parallel lines become parts of a greater whole, 
what Harris is suggesting is that there is some mysterious connection, 
outside of the rules of causality, between the cabin his character sees 
descending from the sky (in 1972) and the satellite that actually 
crashed (in 1977), and this acausal connection is involved in the nexus 
of the two Hornby's. 

From this example it is evident that Harris believes that an 
imaginative fiction is immersed in a much stranger reality than people 
usually believe. A novel may have a strange objectivity that impinges 
on the world outside the shape of the book itself. There may be a kind 



87 

of futurity in it; it may have something to say through itself and 

beyond itself. Harris believes that this happens in imaginative fiction 

12 
because a writer's concentration is not only "daylight concentration," 

but a much deeper kind. As a consequence, the historical side of man, 

the ego, is in some degree moved, broken, or altered to allow a far 

deeper intuitive self to come up and, in fact, to begin to do things 

within the concentration which the writer applies to the book. The 

intuitive self comes up, strikes at the historical ego and creates 

something which has a future beyond the comprehension of the writer 

himself. It has a past also which is much deeper and stranger than the 

writer understands. The fiction reflects in some strange active way a 

mysterious past as well as future. As a result, the fiction has an 

objectivity that is not the objectivity of daylight consciousness; it is 

not on the surface of the mind but much deeper. The concept of a deeper 

level of consciousness leads Harris to believe that images and structures 

around us are not as absolute or "sovereign" as they appear to be. 

Harris believes that most cultures practice gestalt psychology, 

articulating a solid view of the world based on their own curiously 

appealing vestiges. An example of gestalt psychology appears when, in 

the synchronicity interview, Harris speaks of the Houses of Parliament 

in London being placed next to the Thames simply because a nationally 

important palace was once there. The tendency, he believes, is for man 

to make a shape and to build it up from an image related to the life of 

his culture. When this happens he tends to overlook how partial the 

image is and allow it to become a "static gestalt." Harris uses this 

tei-m as Anton Ehrenzweig did in The Hidden Order of Art (1953) to 

designate a structure that becomes so highly articulated as to become 



88 

the embodiment of the world. People associate themselves with it 
absolutely, comnit themselves to it, build all their loyalties into it, 
without realizing it is on]y a partial picture of reality. 

Harris believes it is not only possible but necessary to escape 
from this static gestalt. Harris refers to Anton Ehrenzweig v;ho points 
out in The Hidden Order of Art that as man descends beneath the surface 
mind there are much older, stranger, archaic elements that lie under the 
static gestalt. One recalls that in Tumatumari Roi Solman is struck, on 
the head and has a kind of "metaphysical lesion" which allows him to 
relate to the world around him in a strange and peculiar way; clearly he 
has to free himself from static gestalt. Harris believes the paradox of 
Ehrenzweig 's position is that when man descends deeper and deeper, 
though these elements appear to be archaic, they also seem to have some 
mysterious comprehension of not only the past but the future and there- 
fore cannot be truly archaic. 

Vfnile Ehrenzweig believes there are some "older, stranger, archaic 
elements" under the static gestalt, Harris deviates from this position 
by saying that in his judgment all structures are biased and partial. 
Thus, even when man descends, if he still clings to the notion of "a 
structure," he remains involved in biases. It follows that if man has 
no release from structure the nature of the cosmos must be one of 
"incorrigible" bias. If, on the other hand, there is no basic 
structure, but a kind of mediating and unstructured force that goes 
between structures, man can begin to resolve his dilemma, escape from 
bias, and move toward true freedom. 

Harris tries to indicate the way in v/hich man can become aware of 
these biases and, if not escape them, at least transform them, and open 



89 

up new possibilities. In Black Marsden , Hornby is steeped in the biases 

of his age but is also tied to external elements like the Russian 

satellite. He has nonverbal roots in many directions, even beyond the 

novel. He is penetrated from so many different angles that, in Harris's 

terms, Hornby begins to pick up a "susceptibility" to the future which 

is reflected in the novel. Though not intended to be a deliberate 

prophecy. Karris believes the book reflects a futurity which is written 

into the living present because that present is not wholly structured 

but partial and, therefore, biased. 

In his interview on synchronicity, Harris states that there are so 

many faces of the psyche of nature that a man's perception of it tends 

to conform to the one boundary which is the experience of his short 

lifetime. The boundary is subtly and complexly disrupted because nature 

is not what man thinks it is; perception of nature is always a cultural 

perception, not a true perception. For example, in Black Marsden Clive 

Goodrich's perception is widened during his travels with Black Marsden. 

Previously contented to float along through life, secure in his belief 

that he controls his own world and to a large extent his destiny, 

Goodrich becomes increasingly aware of outside forces until: 

There was a third vision or sensation as the road swung and they 
began to descend. The air seemed saturated by a dream — a film — an 
almost transparent cloud of dust which came over the rim of the 
basin and drifted across Namless Theatre. Goodrich felt an 
irrational correspondence with the milky way when the spaces 
between the stars are filled with a nameless cloud of particles; 
but now one was looking up — not vertically into the spaces of 
night — but horizontally into the spaces of the day. The delayed 
action of the rocks before they plunged possessed its quintessence 
here: quintessential shock or deliberation of movement, seminal 
ruin, seminal catastrophe, (p. 84) 

Harris says that this "seminal ruin, seminal catastrophe" is as close as 

he comes in Black Marsden to stating that there is an essence which 



90 
mediates between structures, aud that therefore man need not be wholly 
locked into the "charmed circles," or biases, or dread, or fear. 

One way to overcome this type of bias, this entrapping stasis, is 
through the recognition and use of a second complex element of Harris's 
imaginative world. The shaman figure serves in Harris's fiction to 
indicate the need for, and the potential of, revising the static 
structures of man's existence. Shaman figures are intimately related to 
myths and the telling of myths, and Harris feels that in a heterogeneous 
society the function of myth is enormously important because it helps 
man revise static or "idolatrous" attitudes, which can do great harm to 
the very causes man serves. The function of the shaman figure is to 
guide men toward true freedom as they come together in a heterogeneous 
society. In examining the myths of their cultures, and recognizing both 
similarities and differences, men may understand how certain myths may 
be so taken for granted as to become dangerous and eclipse alternative 
perspectives and potentials. The ver>' heterogeneity of Caribbean 
society should prevent any absolute acceptance of single myths and 
thereby help man avoid the dangers of committing himself wholly to what 
is, after all, only a partial pattern of the total v/orld. 

Harris uses European, African, Pre-Columbian, and Asian myths from 
both the past and the present in the creation of a greatly varied and 
heterogenous complex of myth, which creates new meanings through 
interplay, juxtaposition, and friction. These myths are rooted in the 
needs of a heterogeneous society and attempt to express a state of the 
imagination which is created by a combination of cultural needs and 
motivations, rather than by absolute or restrictive images. Through the 
combination of these cultural motives one thing plays against another so 



91 
that man is constantly capable of coming out of fixations which could 
lead eventually to conflict. 

At times of conflict or crisis the sliaman figure is likely to 
appear in a tribe or society. The shaman figure is a-social, without 
fixed culture or form. For this reason the process of the shaman 
resembles a psychic breakdown. Far from being a "gross superstition" as 
some anthropologists believe, the shaman represents an indispensable, 
creative attempt to see through or break down either a vestige from the 
past or an overburden of the repressions resulting from conquest. The 
shaman figure makes of every inner divergence, every subtle omen of 
change, "a subsistence of memory" to feed imagination in the future. 
One should be aware, however, that there is a trickster element in the 
shaman, which reflects an ambivalence and may lead sometimes to 
a self -consuming pride. 

Karris also believes that we forget that behind the crucified 
Christ there are not only shamanistic elements but female elements, 
(mother, virgin, whore), and they too suggest suffering and sacrifice. 
However, through involvement with the theme of sacrifice man is no 
longer committed to a total function of sacrifice or a dominant issue of 
sacrifice, but to a more "pregnant" issue. The positive elements of the 
feminine are paired with foul elements of hope and progress, or the 
destructive element of the Gorgon figure, and all appear in Harris's 
novels. Through a syncretic use of mythology, Harris is able to argue 
that man needs to see beyond apparent contradictions of these paired 
elements to the greater, if not perfect, unity beyond. 

Harris's intention in his novels is to sense the enormous depths of 
this unity, of "native reality," which builds on universality because he 



92 

believes ican is involved in a great struggle or quest for a community in 

which he can have authority in freedom, and in which it is possible to 

Sfcvise the genuine imperatives ot sacrifice as veil as the genuine 

potential for great beauty. This, for Harris, is the quest that gives 

to the imaginative artist a profoundly responsible role, but it is not 

a responsibility which has anything to do with being a spokesman for any 

particular society. Harris believes that the world in which we live 

today is so dangerous and riddled with problems that what is at stake is 

the birth or rebirth of community in the most genuine sense of the term. 

Unfortunately, a consequence of this goal — since it is self-deception to 

believe that "community" may be politically defined in terms of any one 

state — is a form of exile for writers. 

Harris feels he brings out of Guyana, South America, and the 

Caribbean a kind of deep-seated sensation, a debt to "place" which for 

him is important because of its extraordinary "cargo." He agrees with 

Mircea Eliade in believing that there is a reality which runs through a 

place but runs deeper than that place; such a reality implies a sense of 

community in which the writer is profoundly responsible as a shamanistic 

imagination, but not as a spokesman. Artists, Harris believes, should 

not propagandize by speaking for a particular place or time. In fact, 

Harris believes it is a great danger for people to be pushed forward as 

"coimnunity" spokesmen since that "community" can be only a com.posite of 

groups in which unity is either artificially imposed or a false vision. 

Rather than merely being a spokesman for a particular time or place, he 

says that: 

With the mutilation and decline of the conquered tribe a new shaman 
or artist struggles to emerge who finds himself moving along a 
knife-edge of change. He has been, as it were, cross-fertilized by 
victor and victim and a powerful need arises to invoke the lost 



93 

generation in a new creative, visionary light. It is a task which 
is profoundly personal (and archetypal) and therefore, accompanying 
an enormous potency for change — for vision into resources — runs the 
danger of self-euchantment or hubris. 

Recognizing his debt to place but recognizing also the restrictions 
which can occur by being too closely confined by specifics of a place or 
tine, Harris hopes he and others can avoid pitfalls and further free 
themselves to develop more fully. For this reason Harris frequently 
adapts old myths in his novels: Perseus and Andromeda in Palace of the 
Peacock , Christ in The Secret Ladder , and Oedipus in Genesis of the 
^lowns. New content enters, as for example in The Secret Ladder where 
the Andromeda figure is no longer the purely European Andromeda but has 
picked up new ramifications appropriate to the Canje area of South 
America. The reader must unravel a kind of static image and realize 
that new content allows a new complex to come into play in a subtle way 
freeing both European and Caribbean elements. 

In the ancient myth of Androm.eda and Perseus both suffer because of 
the pride of their parents. Andromeda's mother believes herself to be 
as beautiful as the gods, thereby invoking their wrath. The punishment 
falls, however, on Andromeda who is offered up as sacrifice to the sea 
monster sent to plague the town and devour its citizens. In the myth of 
Perseus, the oracle has prophesied that Danae will bear a child who will 
become the killer of his grandfather. King Acrisius. Fearing his 
assassination but fearing the gods who protect blood relationships more. 
King Acrisius first imprisons Danae. Later, finding that she and Zeus 
have created the child Perseus, Acrisius sends Danae and the child off 
to sea in a closed box. They land safely on shore, however, and are 
taken in by local peasants, and live happily until King Proteus 's 
jealousy and fear of the young hero cause him to try to have Perseus die 



94 
in battle with the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus, however, with the help of 
the gods J not only kills the Gorgon but returns safely and marries the 
King's daughter Andromache with whom he lives for many years. One day 
during a contest Perseus accidentally kills his grandfather who is a 
spectator by hitting him with a discus. Thus the prophecy is fulfilled 
that Acrisius's grandson would kill him. 

In The Secret Ladder Harris modifies the myth by combining the 
figures of Acrisius and Poseidon. Harris's Poseidon serves as both a 
"sea monster" figure who threatens the scientific workers and a 
grandfather figure who is accidentally killed by Bryant the worker who 
most identified with and cared for him. Catalena, an abused wife of 
another of the workers, is sent to live with Poseidon who suspects her 
of being a spy for the scientists. Threatened by Poseidon and his men 
with rape and even death, she is suddenly rescued by Bryant who makes 
Poseidon fall, striking his head and killing him, killing his "grand- 
father." Harris combines elements of both ancient Greek myth and the 
South American peoples to create a new form which is meaningful as 
both a specific South American story and as an archetypal pattern. 

Another V7ay in which myth functions, may be illustrated through 
discussion of the Da Silva figure in the novel named for him. Da Silva 
da Silva is a "dying god" precisely because his life, his inner life, 
and his self-portraits involve other masks: Magellan, Cuffy and Henry 
Rich the English aristocrat who are now dead but have a type of 
residual, cultural effect on Da Silva. He is a self-creating creator 
whose powers of psychic regeneration lie in all the complicated 
investitures of traditions which he and other people must unravel. Only 
when he is able to unravel these traditions will he be able to learn how 



95 

3 self-sppAvTaed, self-born hero, who seeir.s to exist on a monolithic 

plane, is susceptible to the furies and burdened with both guilt and 
innocence. Harris's reader loses sight entirely of the "nair.eless crew" 
of Palace who were involved in Da Silva's earliest quest for self 
understanding. They becone minor elements in his larger, more complex 
psyche as he sees ever more clear].y not only their importance to his 
growth but his own increasing pov/ers of understanding. Ultimately, 
having died and been "reborn" in ether novels, we see in Da Silva the 
thrust of the dying god i^ho is reborn in such a way that it allows him 
to see more deeply into the past. He is able, at last, to create a real 
future rather than simply succumb to those imprints of the past which 
would push him to repeat throughout history the same catastrophes, 
aiienatioas, and divisions we saw between the self-spawned god and the 
nameless crew of Palace of the Peacock . Harris suggests that this 
progress is possible because of the curious way the dying god dies 
through others and releases something that needs to be freed both in 
himself and others. 

For Harris the dying god is one aspect of the self-creating 
creator; a second is the grouping of muses or madonna figures. In Da 
Silva there is an evolution of consciousness. Harris cites the example 
of the flying madonna or bird which flies instinctively from one mark to 
another by means of unerring instinct that has been partially lost by 
the human consciousness. Because this evolution has occurred man has 
lost some instinct but has gained the capacity for hindsight. As Da 
Silva looks back at canvases he painted seven years earlier, he sees 
things begin to emerge, things he had been unaware of or unable to see 
before: 



96 

The spirit of the genie, akin to naked consciousness, v;hich had 
transported him back across and through the dressed years lay now 
in ail objective signal beyond all inmediate sensual proof. He 
could not discern it. 

It flashed unseen now to be seen later as other than uniform 
head or signalling box. It flashed now to be endorsed later as the 
mystery of freedom's divergence fron a collective light, the 
mystery of an inner response to an invisible painted milestone 
built into non-sense data of the living present, (p. 75) 

Harris seeks, then, not a deliberate adaptation of myth but an 
imaginative truth of myth which expresses a responsibility for authority 
and freedom. This responsibility m.ay appear to be so strange that the 
reader has to allow what appear to be contradictions or contrasting 
spheres of experience to play on each other and thereby transform and 
modify what could otherwise become a polarized condition. When polariza- 
tion occurs there is no solution except through a conflict between the 
spheres of influence and experience, between the factions of a society. 
Seeing the duality in myth or society is, Harris believes, only the 
first step toward eliminating those polarizations. 

One example of the duality of myth in Harris's fiction is his use 
of the bone flute as it is related to the shaman figure. Both elements 
of myth are capable of digesting contrasting spaces, of bringing 
together formerly polarized or apparently contradictory elements. 

One way the bone flute does this is by simultaneously containing 
both male and female elements. The shaft form of the bone is obviously 
a male element but it contains the "wonb" shape associated with the 
female element and in which the sound is made which results in music. 
Out of the bone of an enemy killed in warfare tha conqueror creates an 
art form and beautiful music. These bone flutes actually existed and 
were one way of expressing not only a conquest over one's enemies but 
the actual incorporation of that person into the victor's culture. This 



97 

is an exaiPiple of the "digestion of contrasting figures" and spaces which 
Harris seeks in a less violent fomi. Da Silva himself functions as a 
living bone flute. He is able to bring to life and fulfill the dreams 
of the apparently dead Francis and Julia Cortez as recorded in their 
letters and journals. He "talks" with them and through them comes to 
understand not only their dreams and frustrations and their effects on 
his own life directly and indirectly, but he also comes to a greater 
understanding and appreciation of his own dreams and personal fulfill- 
ment. He contains the "bones" of Francis, Julia, and the others by 
digesting the contrasting spaces of living and dead, mediating between 
past and present, as well as between the present and the future, and 
turning negative elements into positive forces. He truly becomes the 
father figure both literally and mietaphorically by going beyond his 
local culture and time to become the father of his time. He is a shaman 
figure capable of bringing himself and others to greater understanding 
and strength, having successfully undergone his own rite of passage. I 
shall discuss Harris's use of the Da Silva character at greater length 
in Part Two, Chapter 6. 

The bone flute myth contains the elements of contrast and is used 
for example in P alace (1960), Sleepers of Roraima (1970) and Age of the 
Rainmakers (1971). Caribs used the bones of enemies to fashion flutes, 
creating an expression of their own community out of the very bodies of 
those who were in conflict with that community. The flute forms a 

bridge between cultures and allows man to "digest contrasts and once 

1 P 
again. . . thrust toward community," a community with a possibility 

for rebirth rather than an artificial community with one group ruling 

the other, one group oppressing the other, one group suppressed by the 



98 
other. The world is riddled by suppression because tyranny unfortunately 
breeds tyranny. In Ascent to Cma i Harris tried to point to this tyranny 
and the possibilities of freedon and of learning freedom through 
suffering and deprivation. It is easy for tyranny to breed tyranny and 
for those who have been beaten down to become in their turn the tyrants 
of tomorrow. 

Harris believes that it is difficult to overcome tyranny and create 
a new sense of community in which sovereignty has to be yielded in order 
to find a new dimension. The constant temptation, he feels, is to cling 
to what appears to be sovereign and absolute. Therefore, we need to 
learn to see all images as partial in order to grow and to see connec- 
tions between what appear to be mutually exclusive images but are not. 
Harris seeks in his fiction an art of combination, rather than aliena- 
tion, which will point toward coiribined motives and clarity of hope and 
growth, clarity of achievement, of maturity. If all images are partial 
and w^e cling to what appears to be total or sovereign, we deceive 
ourselves by investing in a totality which does not exist. Believing 
one system or structure to be sovereign, we feel we have no alternative 
but to eliminate or exterminate those people or systems which do not fit 
into that structure. If we invest in an absolute condition, maturity 
and potentials are eclipsed and the artist simply becomes a spokesman 
for a group, consumed by the doom which will consume all those to whom 
he speaks. This is part of what Harris sees as the dead end of much 

twentieth-century writing because it leads inevitably to all sorts of 

,. . ^. . 19 
totalitarian fixations. 

The "dream of perfection" does not take into account the fact that 

risks are constant. What perfection means is that there is a ground of 



99 
fate with many roott; in man's life. If Tnan were to live only according 
to his upbringing, he would relate to one root which comes up through 
society, and believe that root to be the only logical one. However, 
there are other roots which lie outside and away from that and these 
roots may never come into one's consciousness at all. If they do it 
means that man becomes involved in risks of a different order than the 
risks he would be involved in if he kept safely to the path in which he 
had been conditioned and educated. Those risks which man takes are both 
supported and challenged by the nature of place, the fate which grows 
out of his soil. In other words, there is a certain kind of perfection 
which brings man to the shamanistic level, and has to do with limited 

conditions of humankind. The shaman figure relates to what is at the 

20 
"bottom of the ladder" or the "top of the ladder of social structure. 

Harris believes that the ideal figure at the top of the ladder can 
never be totally apprehended, but at the bottom of the ladder exists the 
pressure of fate where the ground is riddled and torn. At the bottom of 
the ladder people live essentially by instinct and that instinct becomes 
fate which is one of the conceptions that lie at the heart of tragedy. 
Harris regards tragedy as one of the greatest achievements of any 
culture. Above tragedy, however, exists the ideal figure at the top of 
the ladder. 

In Harris's philf.-;ophy enormous risks taken by a truly creative 
imagination could be productive because there is some sort of guiding 
hand, a shamanistic element or archetypal force which thrusts up and 
sustains man so that he may not completely fail. Harris believes it is 
true that man creates his own fate to a large degree because he is 
conditioned to grow up in a particular way so that the risks taken are 



100 
to some extent the risks which are nost accessible. Only v/hen he is 
able to nove beyond narrow cultural confines can man take on a 
shamanistic role and move toward a coii)r:unity of Kan rather than men. 

The cultivation of a fate which lies buried deep in the soil of a 
society involves effort and work so that a thing which is far doT;jTi and 
has not seen the light of consciousness for ages may coiiie up and thrust 
out before man can begin to move upward. As he climbs toward an ideal 
he may be hit by stones of the world and the ladder may shake. The 
truly creative imaginatioa undertakes risks in his community, goes 
against static forms and reaches toward expression of the ideal which 
may not yet even be recognizable. 

Harris sees the artist's dilemma as similar to that of a bird which 
evolved from a dinosaur. The bird, like truly creative men, overcame 
enormous risks over the ages and was finally able to fly; but it still 
has "skeletal" ties to the lower form (the dinosaur) from which it 
evolved. A "perfection of fate" is not a totalitarian model, for then 
the dinosaur would remain perpetually in existence. However, both 
dinosaurs and men experienced modifications which allowed for new beings 
to appear. Major European vrriters have not learned that lesson of 
evolution and flexibility. Harris believes that writer after writer has 
been fascinated by apparent idealists like Hitler or Mussolini who seek 
a sort of perfection, just as Black intellectuals today are fascinated 

by Amin or some other dictator. Karris feels this perpetual dilemma has 

21 
nothing to do v;ith "genuine perfection." Once any form has been 

accepted as "perfect" it precludes further evolution and begins not only 

to oppress those who accept it but to die itself. 



101 

Though genuine perfection reiuaius a riddle, a mystery. It relates 
to the deep-seated roots which come up and make enormous risks available 
to us. Harris believes with Anton Ehrenzweig that a hidden order of art 
may eventually break out and allow for a whole and healed psyche, an 
order which comes from an evolution of vision moving toward an imageless 
perfection. Man often relates to what is new in terms of terrifying but 
familiar images; his fear is sometimes all that he possesses in the face 
of unfathomable odds. However, man can circumvent this fear when he 
begins to sense that the images which he believes to be total and 
sovereign are all partial, and he can begin to come to grips with the 
accumulation of motives that allow him to recognize strange, even 
synchronistic, connections in his world. 

It is because he seeks to avoid totalitarian structures and find 
synchronistic connections that Harris does not go along with what is 
fashionable; he seeks freedom from the tendency toward the totalitarian 
novel, or an authoritative condition. He sees the great responsibility 
of the creative imagination as residing in this move toward freedom, the 
only way a community can die and be reborn. Though the world is 
polarized man can still realize a sacrifice that is bearable; he can 
still learn something about the "naked" shape that exists at the heart 
of tradition and has its investiture in the "clothing" which naked 
bodies wear. At some point man comes into dialogue with that body and 
begins to "unravel" the unbearable violations and to recognize a vision 
of original sacrifice. The shaman figure, without cultural form or 
dress, is able to unravel the "garments of history," free himself from 
totalitarian structures, and lead man toward a unity of mankind. 



102 

Harris feels that the problem that confronts and is expressed by 

V.S. Naipaul and others is that if nan simply relies on "local" 

22 
experience he is doomed; rather than pulling something up from the 

very depths of the soil of place and time, he is then responding to and 

being oppressed by an imposed structure, Harris believes the writer 

must be an "unstitcher" precisely because tliat is the only vzay in which 

he can create a genuine community without being overwhelmed by stasis. 

Man must be sensitive or his history will imprint itself on him so 
remorselessly that there will be no capacity within the body politic to 
revise the nature of sovereignty; he will become locked, wholly locked, 
in a model of sovereignty which is historic. But history is not only 
what is written; there are many areas that are unwritten but still 
imprinted on the psyche. If history leads to a condition in which there 
is implacable sovereignty it means that the very best within tVie 
tradition is vitiated. It is this sensitivity toward something beyond 
the immediate environment that Harris seeks to portray in his novels and 
characters, a feeling for the history of man rather than of nations. 

The third element which Harris uses to shew how man may move toward 
greater understanding is the eye which is able to see through static 
modes of behavior and traditional structures and w^hich appears in 
Harris's fiction as "the eye of the scarecrow." This "eye" originated 
in African and American Indian tales as an element of the Trickster-Fool 
character who corresponds to the principle of original energy, prefigures 
the shape of man, and predates the cultures and history of man. 

During the Middle Passage when slaves were brought from Africa to 
the Americas, and even later in Caribbean festivals, the Trickster 
figure appeared as a participant in the limbo dance. This is a physical 



103 

representation of the emotional and psychological contortions and 

distortions necessary not on]y for the slaves' survival but also for 

nan's survival in today's hostile world. The central part of the limbo 

dance involves movement of the dancers under a pole held parallel to the 

ground. As the dance progresses participants must increasingly contort 

their bodies to pass under the constantly lowering pole without touching 

it or knocking it doi-m. The dancers contort their bodies as they bend 

over backward until they resemble spiders, bodies parallel to the ground 

and limbs extended. Once past the pole the dancers spring upright to 

repeat the process as long as possible. The body which appears reduced, 

broken, in the dance appears afterward with limbs intact and reassembled. 

This reshaping ritual originated as a transition ritual of men moving 

from slavery to "freedom" in the era of the Middle Passage and in some 

measure retains that value today in Caribbean festivals though today the 

slavery is less overt. 

The m.iddle passage limbo dance is portrayed in The Tree of the Sun 

as Da Silva/Francis undergoes the shamanistic journey toward greater 

understanding and fulfillment: 

Leonard stopped for a moment on an open concrete pitch that 
bordered the pool to shout a w^ord of encouragement to a limbo 
dancer from the West Indies who swept under a pole held 
horizontally by two white youths. 

First the dancer merely lowered his head and shoulders as he 
passed under the bar but gradually as the pole was taken inch by 
inch, foot by foot, closer to the ground, he began to bend his 
trunk and limbs backwards; his legs and feet acquiring astonishing 
agility and protean spirit. 

. . .The limbo dancer beside the pool re-fashioned himself 
into a series of distortions as he kissed the deck of symbolic 
slave ship, symbolic free ship, with the back of his head between 
pole and ground. 

'Middle passage ritual,' said da Silva to Francis as he made a 
series of rapid sketches, a series of dancing shapes in pursuit of 
a universal architectonic or self. (pp. A7-48) 



104 

Francis/Da Silva suddenly realizes while vatching the limbo that the 

dance is a key to understanding the history of not only the Caribbean 

peoples from which they both have come, but the key to understanding the 

middle passage all men experience in numerous other forms as well. 

'Kiddle passage. . .?' . . . Kis eyes were opening in his skull. 
'On every urban ship the gods are there in each new building 
programme like implicit dancers, horizons as well, under which 
history moves by global degrees. Cramped economic degrees, dwarfed 
economic degrees, embedded nevertheless in the womb of space as in 
a canvas of deeds that lag behind a universal conception of the 
body of truth, (p. 48) 

In his unique manner Harris continues, tying together limbo, myth, old 

world building, slavery and freedom, Christianity and its implied 

suffering, with fate and hope in a few lines of dialogue whose effect is 

to suggest the unity of all men across time: 

In a limbo dancer or building or monument one glimpses chains and 
broken chains, divided spaces, wounded angles in resurrections, 
movement and distortion towards the inimitable 

(never-to-be-wholy-achieved) re-assetnbly of limbs into high rise 
Osiris, god-beetle, anancy spider, mast of new Christian ship, 
unfinished land, unfinished pier in the sea and the sky on the 
precipitate ladder of fate. (p. 48) 

This multiple layering of images and symbols will be further discussed 

in Chapters 5 through 8 which deal with Harris's last four novels. 

Though the Oxford English Dictionary traces the origins of limbo 
back to Dante's Divine Comedy , where it is that region on the border of 
Hell, which is the abode of the just who died before Christ's coming and 
of unbaptised infants, limbo also signifies more recently the Caribbean 
dance form which traces its origins to the name for a kind of coarse 
calico or a dark blue fabric, "ulem-bu" (web), which was corrupted to 
"limbo" by the white European merchants. 

The limbo dance in the Caribbean depicts the movement of slaves 
into freedom and in Harris's fiction the Trickster/Fool/Shaman figure 



105 

becomes more than merely the slave or even hunan initiate noving from 
one status to another, one office to another, or one role to another. 
As Harris describes it in his "eye of the scarecrow" interview, this 
figure becones the Initiate Human Archetype between one condition of 
being and another. Caribbean man, as representative Man, is in limbo 
between structures and systems. He is in a realm of pure possibility 
where novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise. Kan in a 
more settled, homogeneous society does not face the overt psychic 

threats that slaves did but neither does he enjoy, save in grave crisis, 

23 

the creative tension and potential latent in such a condition. By 

means of the shaman figure and use of the eye of the scarecrow, man, in 
Harris's philosophy, can learn to see and utilize this inherent 
potential. 

Harris identifies suppressed humanity, the natives of Guyana, with 
the original, invisible reality of the Trickster-Fool or Clown, because 
they have been reduced to the same primordial state as the Fool and 

deprived of identity. In this condition, however, they enjoy true 

24 
spiritual freedom because they are not involved in any fixed order. 

The Initiate Human Archetype, or Scarecrow, is a central symbol in 

all of Harris's novels. As early as Palace of the Peacock (1960) the 

scarecrow appears as a double with two kinds of eyes: the dreamer's eye, 

the underground eye which to some extent is closed because it cannot yet 

see the subterranean levels of existence; and the dreamer's brother's 

eye, the upper eye, the daylight or surface eye, which is wide awake and 

rules his sight, rules his world. In Black Marsden (1972) the eye 

unravels biases, it tunnels through reigning and ruling conceptions and 



105 

breaks then up so that they may be overccme. Jennifer tells Goodrich 

25 
that he is "one of them" because he has the eye of the scarecrow. 

The eye of the scarecrow makes it possible for neaningful 
distortions to enter into existence, to relate one thing to another in a 
way that was not previously possible. This scarecrow eye is conscious 
all the time that nothing articulated into a solid position is as solid 
as it appears to be. A beautiful day is not as fixed and solid as it 
appears to be because it exists on a turning globe and there are curious 
mutations of the light that cannot be seen but which affect man's 
unconscious in what Harris calls a "non-sense" way. He believed that 
the light in the tropics was excessively bright when he lived there as a 
child, but says that he now knows he was blind to a lot of it because he 
could not contrast it to other kinds of light. 

In Companions of the Day and Night (1975) the scarecrow eye not 

only sees the world in a different -way from a man's eye, but has an 

27 
additional function, that of resistance to gravity. Throughout the 

novel there are motifs of verticality and the falling figure. As the 

body spins and falls it seems to unravel the costume that it wears. 

Even the body that it wears is unravelled because there is some 

essential unstructured spirit that is falling as it wears these 

costumes. The figure becomes a mediating force between structures. 

Ivan Van Sertina sees this as a doing away with the garments of history, 

doing away with the foibles of any age's fashionable ideologies and 

illusions. Because the Scarecrow/Fool is net dressed in these garments 

of history he retains his nakedness, and the social garments of cultures 

and times into which he descends are like m^asks vihich he wears and 

waives, roles which he as easily doffs as dons. 



107 

'I see nothing,' said the Idiot. 'I am going blind. I am falling. 
Nothing except economies of nakedness. . . 

Idiot Nameless retired against the pyramid of the sun. The echo of 
a voice 'I' had come out of the ground as out of bone and blood he 
banked in a wave of gods. Banked floods (surf or sea of emotion), 
banked shores (wave of obsessions). Which was inner strand, which 
outer chasm or precipice? 

He ascended, eyes riveted, nailed to the steps leading up to the 
top of the pyramid of the sun. How many human hearts he wondered 
had been plucked from bodies there to feed the dying light of the 
sun and create an obsession with royal sculptures, echoing stone? 
It was time to take stock of others as hollow bodies and shelters 
into which one fell. Hollow newspapers into which one fell, nex^s- 
worthy sacrifice, wrinkled skin. FIRING SQUAD OF RAIN. Headline, 
Heartline. STOCKMARKET SHELTER, CITY RAINS. Deadline. CANVAS 
REQUIRED, SACRIFICE REQUIRED. 

For centuries it seemed to him now he had been ascending, 
descending, sliding, falling into rain inch by inch, into shelters 
of paint, shelters of stone. Sacrificed paint. Sacrificed stone. 
Lament for the dying sun. This was the altar of his malaise. Idiot 
shelter. Idiot fascination, fall into the sculptures of the 
greatest men (upon whom? from whom? times rained) . 
Fall into the skin of em.perors, admirals, conquistadores , kings at 
the corner of a street. Great Ladies, Beatrice, Joanna, centre of a 
square, VJay of the Dead, as though these were his sacrificed bodies 
and he (Fool, Clown) were high priest of the elements after all. 
High priest of stone rain. Rain Emperor. (pp. 56-58) 

In /jnerican Indian mythology this Idiot/Clown/Fool is prestructural 

and therefore prior to any fixed shape, fixed sex, or fixed cultural 

form. This amorphous entity without fixed identity is moving up through 

primordial formlessness toward the evolution of a shape and a structure, 

through stages in awareness and determination of its own extensions, 

proportions, and capacities. It behaves almost like an Idiot because it 

has no programmed reflexes. Its instincts are not coded into it. Its 

left hand may fight with its right because it can hold dialogue with its 

parts as though they are free bodies. It is not aware of eocial laws as 

29 
we are; it breaks them all, breaks free of tradition and custom. 

The scarecrow represents the shadowy figures in which cultures are 

conscious of a mediation between structures but cannot openly state it. 

Nevertheless that is what Harris believes the scarecrow is doing. Man 



108 
has the tendency to believe that as he descends through structures he 
V7ill ccKe to one that rules everything. Harris, however, thinks that if 
Eian descends always into structures he will come to the place where he 
will have to confess to an incorrigible bias which can never be 
corrected. It cannot be corrected because structure carries bias with 
it. 

In The Hidden Order of Art Anton Ehrenzwelg recognized this paradox 
of finding something very archaic in the world which seems to comprehend 
all tines; Roi Solman experienced it in Tumatumari when he struck his 
head and saw, as with a "scarecrow eye," both his historic situation and 
a metaphysical one. Because the scarecrow eye sees through surface 
"realities" it sees both the archaic side as well as the comprehensive 
side where Karris feels the mediating force is located. Harris believes 
that if only the chronological story of Tumatumari or Companions of the 
Day and Nigh t is read the mediating element or the element of verticality 
is omitted. This verticality is stated all the way through but sometimes 
in peculiar ways so that the end of the story, in Companions for example, 
seems to come before the beginning as though it already existed within 
the moment when Idiot Nameless is falling through the pavement. This 
fall from the pyramid through space and time comes at the beginning of 
the novel but is really at the end of the chronological story. 

As this example indicates, Harris feels that an imaginative novelist 
should not concern himself with recreating linear time or historical 
fact and he modifies both when he deals with the Oedipal, incest, theme 
in Genesis of the Clowns . Though this novel will be analyzed at greater 
length in Chapter 7 it is helpful to note here that Karris uses the 
incest theme subtly, the reason being that incest was not part of 



109 
recorded history but a rumor. Since Karris believes that great myths 
can reappear where least expected, he plays with the myth so that it 
appears in a disadvantaged society in order to redeem it. This redenip- 
tion is possible when man learns to see through and beyond restrictive 
or negative historical issues to greater, more positive possibilities 
beyond. 

Harris concedes that by normal literary standards Genesis is a very 
strange novel but believes that there was no other way he could write 
it. If he had attempted to write it in the Mittelholzer fashion, for 
example, he would have augmented the incest theme, made it sensational 
and presented a straight, realistic portrait. To have done this would 
have been to have violated the truth, since he is not sure incest 
occurred; it is only an intuition he has based on rumors. 

Though there is no historical proof that incest occurred after the 
Middle Passage he has a deep conviction that it did because of the 
imbalance of the sexes which existed in Guyana (disregarding the 
Amerindians) from the earliest colonization of the coastlands until 
about 1920 when the number of men and women reached a balance. Until 
this time there were always more men tVian women and as a consequence 
Harris believes that incest was inevitable. The inevitability of incest 
is also suggested by the practice of slave owners breaking up cultural 
and even family groups to prevent slave unity but thereby providing the 
opportunity for incest to occur even without the knowledge of the 
participants. 

Even though incest was not something which could have been avoided 
completely, since it was impossible to trace family connections, Harris 
sees it as a sort of burden of guilt shared by Guyanese. It is not. 



110 

however, sonething he feels should be exploited in literature, in the 

Mittelholzer fashion, because no actual incidents of incest are recorded 

and his knowledge is net therefore historical but intuitive. Because he 

feels it is a factor which shaped nan's consciousness, albeit 

unconsciously, Harris deals with incest in subtle ways; for example, in 

Genesis of the Clowns he places a father figure, rather than an actual 

father, in connection with a "daughter." Harris suggests that by 

becoming aware of the factors (like incest) which contribute to cur 

perceptions, consciously or unconsciously, we become more adept at 

making valid judgements. By learning to see through and beyond cultural 

biases and prejudices which cloud our vision, we learn to take action 

which results not only in short-term, personal gratifications, but to 

make decisions which benefit man in a more universal sense. In this 

connection, the role of the eye of the scarecrow is to enable man to see 

through and beyond the biases which had previously trapped him. 

For Harris, then, the eye of the scarecrow allows man to see 

through social structures and historical constraints to a greater 

"innocence" and freedom. So Euch is suggested by his choice of lines 

from Edwin Muir's poem on Oedipus as epigraph to Genesis ; 

I am one 
Who as in innocent play sought out his guilt. 
And now through guilt seeks other innocence. 
Beset by evil thoughts, led by the gods. 
... I have judged 
Myself. . . 

Past sight or thought ; that hearing it we may ease 
The innortal burden of the gods who keep ^^ 

Our natural steps and the earth and skies from harm. 

Harris sees the eye of the scarecrow working in this way: it is the 

eye that does not accept apparent structures but begins to mediate 

between the strangeness of its surroundings and other backgrounds to 



Ill 

bring about meaningful distortions that help it look through a laoment 
into the whole fabric of shadows and lights around the globe, past sight 
and thought to the ideals beyond. 

In Black Marsden , Knife is presented as an eye of the scarecrow 
figure, a kind of skeleton harp, skeleton knife, skeleton of civiliza- 
tions. He is part of Black Marsden' s peculiar group which comes to live 
with Clive Goodrich and corresponds to instruments of the culture, 
instruments which allow the scarecrow eye to tunnel through biases. 
Here too, the scarecrow is not so much a thing as a process, "a dialec- 
tical process whose dynamics obscure distinctions to evoke an almost 
unendurable unity, silence and sacrifice" ( Eye of the Scarecrow , p. 47). 
He helps Goodrich move from guilt to innocence: he is a mediating or 
Christlike figure. Unlike Goodrich who is a product of a particular 
society. Knife can retain his innocence because he is not cast in any 
socially determined mold and in fact rejects Goodrich's attempts to 
Identify him with a particular society in Jamaica. 

Goodrich's world is so polarized that what rules it is violence. 
Finally there is no way of transforming the world except through 
violence between the polarized roots. Knife, therefore, becomes the 
guide and the only principle that could guide Goodrich. He alerts 
Goodrich to his separation from the world as well as to his unconscious 
communion between his ego and his Self. Once Goodrich becomes conscious 
of this segregation, he can reach a synthesis of the dialogue between 
the two parts, bringing unity out of separation. Even the scarecrow's 
shape is suggestive of its unifying or mediating role: two sticks in the 
form of a cross, the archetypal symbol of the intersection of two 



112 

contrasting realms often, as with Goodrich, the earthly and the 
celestial. 

The concepts of structures and tha ncdiation between structures was 
not something that Harris believes he could have stated intellectually 
(at the time the novels were written), but it was all there intuitively. 
The mediation is suggested by phrases like "seminal ruin" or "seminal 
catastrophe." Though apparently negative, "seminal ruin" and "seminal 
catastrophe" refer to conditions of deprivation capable of positive 
transformation. The skeleton which becomes a harp is no longer just a 
harp, but becomes a knife and has a tone to it. The forces of 
unyielding structure personified in the "assassin," can be confronted in 
terms that do not allow it to be the utterly insupportable monster which 
it appears to be when man is locked into an order of things and is 
unable to see how partial it is. 

This "assassin" thrives in a world where men do not confess their 

partialities. The whole ground of the assassin lies in this: "there is 

32 
no way fon^/ard unless I kill you.""" Harris believes that if that is 

tlie truth of the world, if the logic of the world is incorrigible bias, 

then there vfill always be room for the assassin. When man has confessed 

that his biases are not as incorrigible as they seem, then for the first 

time he can face the assassin whose power will begin to diminish from 

that moment. The assassin is not as sovereign as he at first appears to 

be; because there is another perspective of change which lies in the 

canvases of existence. Only with realization of partiality can man 

support the thought of the assassin, because, dreadful as it may seem, 

it is no longer conclusive. 



113 

Harris seeks to dramatize in his fiction his belief that we can 
transform the world through opportunities v/hich appear at first to be 
deprivations. The Oedipus "deprivation," that of incest, is only one of 
many imposed on peoples who lost far more than their families and their 
languages. Another concept, that cf the double, relates to the manner 
in which tViese deprivations are transformed. This double or shadow 
appears in Palace as the Narrator and his brother and continues through 
the novels to Knife's shadow which is seen even in another world. There 
is a definite impression in Black Marsden that all the figures have 
shadows walking beside them, and not just shadows of themselves. 

Through the use of the eye of the scarecrow man is able to begin to 
see these doubles, to learn to support and bear the anguish associated 
with the assassin, and to open himself to new possibilities. This rich 
texture of possibilities can exist because for the first time man 
realizes that these structures which have ruled him and are characterized 
by polarizations and incredible violence are not as absolute as they 
seemed. Thus, through deprivation itself, man can begin to transform 
the world, for what seems to be fixed, static, reified, has another side 
to it, allowing man to transform materials that only seem to be intran- 
sigent. 

There are V'est Indian writers who say that there is nothing in the 

33 
Uest Indies. Harris however, believes that what appears to be poverty 

actually is rich opportunity since man there can gain a sense of the 

mediation between forms and structures; the very deprivations push in 

that direction. Without the scarecrow eye there would be no sense of 

the subtlety and complexity of man's other eye. It is through the 

staring eye which seems deprived, through that kind of apparition of 



114 
insensibility and death, that it is possible to begin to understand and 
undermine death. Initially the eye seercs utterly remote fron life 
because it can stare at the sun without being blinded; but, it is 
important to understand, it is this very capacity that allows it to 
transform various boundaries. 

The scarecrow eye, the double, works by creeping up through a kind 
of hindsight or foresight; clearly it illumines the future as well. 
Moving into the future man is aware that the future possesses strange 
influences which are already at work in life though he may be unaware of 
them. Though man appears to sit in one place, he and the world are 
always moving into the future. Because of what he has experienced in 
the past he faces the future with the sense that he is not as solid as 
he once thought he was; there is a shadow with him which is already 
aware of the illuminations coming out of the future. Those illuminations 
are already addressing societies whose responses to the illuminations 
wilj. have a great deal to do with the kind of freedom man secures in the 
future, just as hindsight teaches a great deal about the freedoms that 
have been won out of the past. There is always a double, a sense of 
going back into the past as though the shadow leaves and returns to the 
past to inspect it and bring back news. The shadow also goes into the 
future and comes back with news of the future. There is a very real 
sense of the shadow going with the solid person. Som-etiraes this shadow 
appears to jump out because of a change in psychic "light" that is cast; 
at other tines this shadow seems to disappear. 

In Harris's novels, it is not just the specter of another person 
who is there, but the ghost of other civilizations, other societies as 
well, the specter of an Amerindian force that appears through society as 



115 

well as a European force, or an African force or, indeed, all of this in 
multiple layers. As man begins to activate his own resources, other 
resources come into play even though he is not consciously aware of 
them. He can become aware of them and activate something in himself 
when he begins to see with the eye of the scarecrow. U'hen he sees more 
clearly, becom.es aware that both conscious and unconscious effects are 
at work, and recognizes that his understanding of these forces is only 
partial, he can begin to set up a dialogue. For Harris this is a 
mysterious dialogue because it lies beyond the framework of the novels 
and man's normal vision, and yet can affect him. Only then can a 
mediating element be activated between man and the past, between one 
civilization and another, between one culture and another, between one 
man's scarecrow eye and another's, between Harris's novels and his 
readers. 

Part Two of this dissertation provides detailed explications of 
Harris's four most recent novels: Companions of the Day and Night , Da 
Silva da Silva's Cultivated VJilderiiess , Genesis of the Clowns , and The 
Tree of the Sua . Though not explicit devices in these novels, Harris 
uses synchronicity, the shaman figure, and the eye of the scarecrow to 
suggest that mediation between structures is not only possible but 
necessary for man if he is to avoid the "assassin", escape from 
incorrigible biases, and use his potentials rather than eclipse them as 
he has in the past. 



Notes 

Three previously unpublished interviews with Wilson Harris are to 
be found in the Appendix; among other things, they provide discussions 
of synchronicity, shamanism, and the eye of the scarecrow. 



116 

2 

VJilson Harris, "Synchronicity ," au intervievv^ with Marion 

Cilliland and Ivan Van Sertima (London: 20 July 1980). 

3 

C.G. Jung, The Structure and Dyranics of the Psyche , (New York: 

Pantheon, 1970), p. 526. 

4 

Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche , p. 441. 

Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche , pp. 444-447. 

Jolande Jacobi, Complex /Archetype /Symbol , (New York: Pantheol^, 
1959), pp. 63-64. 

Jacobi, Complex/Archetype/Synbol , p. 64. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 18. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 14. 

Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society , p. 17. 

Wilson Harris, "Synchronicity." 

12 

Wilson Harris, "Synchronicity." 

^"^ Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 22. 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth," an Interview 
with Michael Gilkes (London: 7 July 1977). 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

V/ilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

Wilson Harris, "The Interior of the Novel: Amerindian/European/ 
African Relations," National Identity , ed. by K.L. Goodwin (London: 
Heinemann, 1968), p. 145. 

18 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

20 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

2 1 

Wilson Harris, "Shamanism and the Function of Myth." 

Wilson Harris, "Synchronicity" and "Shamanism." 

23 

Ivan Van Sertima, "Ritual as Native Phenomenon," Ritual Man in 

the Caribbean . Unpublished manuscript, pp. 87-88. 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Inimitable Painting: New Developments in 
Wilson Harris's Latest Fiction," Ariel Vol. 8:3 (July 1977), p. 76. 



117 

25 



Wilson Harris, Elack Marsden , p. 29. 
Wilson Harris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 



27 

For a complete transcript of the previously unpublished 

manuscript of the "Eye of the Scarecrow" interview, see the appendix. 

28 

Ivan Van Sertina, "into the Black Hole, A Study of the Novel 

Companions of the Day and Night ," ACLALS Bulletin, 4th Series, No. 4 

(Oct. 1976), p. 72. 

29 

Ivan Van Sertima, "Ritual as Native Phenomenon," pp. 74-75. 

30 

Wilson Harris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 

31 

Edwin Muir, "Oedipus," quoted in Genesis of the Clowns by Wilson 

Harris, (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), p. 80. 

32 

Wilson Karris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 

^^ Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 21. 



PART Ti;o 



VISIONARY TEXTS 



CHAPTER 5 

COMPANIONS OF THE DAY Al^D NIGHT (1975) 

Part One, "Contexts of Vision," described the range and content of 
Harris's fiction; his relationship to three significant West Indian 
authors: V.S. Naipaul, George Lainining, and Edgar Mittelholzer; and three 
of his key terms as they appear in his fiction: synchronicity , 
shamanism, and the eye of the scarecrow. Now it is time to turn to 
explications of his four most recent novels: Companions of the Day and 
Night , Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness , Genesis of the Clowns , 
and The Tree of the Sun . These novels, the latest and most complex 
examples of Harris's unusual style and innovative techniques, continue 
to dramatize his positive vision of Man, as they urge that the creative 
imagination be used to break through surface realities and to discover 
rhythms previously hidden by cultural biases. By moving beyond these 
limiting biases, Harris's characters come to a greater understanding of 
themselves and the forces which create them and are created by them. 
Harris's readers, too, may participate iu these liberating and liberated 
perceptions and thus move toward a unity of all men. Though the theme 
of psychic division is not new in literature, Harris's approach to 
healing it is, as these novels demonstrate; and his new approach to the 
problem results in new approaches to the novel form and language. By 
sifting through the multiple layers of characters and meanings, Harris's 

119 



120 
readers nove closer to the very solution he advocates for a divided 
consciousness: an improved and illuminated subjective and creative 
imagination. 

Following Black Marsden (197 2) and continuing the characters and 
themes employed there. Companions of the Day and Night (1975) depicts 
Clivfc Goodrich's efforts to "translate" into a novel the diary 
experiences of Idiot Nameless' s journey in Mexico. As Goodrich studies 
the collection that Black Marsden has sent him, he becomes simultaneously 
a creating and created force. He is an "editor" who becomes so involved 
in the materials he originally perceives as trash that he soon comes to 
regard the collection as "magical contact with the gods'' (p. 15). As he 
puts the collection of paintings, sculptures, and diary pages in order, 
and lives through the journey of Idiot Nameless, he at the same tim.e 
journeys into himself, orders his o\«i psyche, and comes to greater 
understanding of himself and the nature of his world. 

Black Marsden had served as a shaman figure in the novel named for 
him, leading Goodrich toward greater understanding of himself and his 
world. Marsden sends Goodrich the Nameless collection because he "was 
aware of [Goodrich's] susceptibility to 'objects' that sym.bolized, in 
various degrees, the 'soul' or 'glory' of cultures and civilizations 
past" (p. 79). With his improved vision, Goodrich is now able to 
translate the Nameless collection into a coherent and significant whole. 
As Marsden and Goodrich became facets of the same larger psyche in Black 
Marsden, so now they gain new dimensions by the addition of the 
experiences and visions of Nameless, and through those experiences they 
are enabled to offer greater hope for the future of other men who will 



121 

journey frci?. narrow confines of self and history toward a unity of human 

understanding transcending times and cultures. 

Harris sought in this novel to express (and regain for himself) a 

"vision of sacrifices built into survival." This vision is the result 

of a dialogue set up between the European Naneless and the cultures and 

myths of Mexico. It is a dialogue that touches upon the enigma of 

sacrifice. Pre-Columbian sacrifices occurred when hearts were torn out 

of victims and presented to the sun in Aztec rituals whose aim was to 

ensure continued life. The fears experienced by the pre-Columbian 

Aztecs that the sun would sink into the ground and forever disappear 

unless brought /bought back by the offerings of human life resulted in 

great sacrifices which Harris incorporates into the themes of his novel 

and traces through the history of the area up to and including the 

present time. He also implies that modern life will continue, at least 

for Goodrich and Marsden, because of the sacrifice of Nameless' s life, a 

sacrifice Harris directly compares to the sacrifice made by Christ. 

Though as modern men we may scoff at the pre-Columbian belief that the 

sun might disappear and either go into or leave a huge black hole, a 

similar belief, and perhaps only a slightly less superstitious one, is 

held today by those who maintain that our own universe will disappear 

into a "black hole" in space. As Goodrich observes in the "Editor's 

Introduction": 

But there was something else that one sees in the landscapes and 
cultures into which Nameless descends. In what degree are 'black 
holes of gravity' susceptible to interpretation as an area of 
anxiety in twentieth century man when they come into rapport with 
pre-Columbian investitures of fear built into sacrifices to a sun 
that might fall into the ground and never rise again? (p. 14) 



122 
Scientists have demonstrated that such holes do exist, but their 
relationship to Harris's novels is through the fear which they engender, 
directly or metaphorically, in. modern man. 

More than any of his other novels Conipanions of the Day and Night 
is more fully understood if the reader is familiar with a few background 
facts of Mexican history and mythology, although, as is usual in 
Harris's novels, the significance of historical sites and events 
referred to goes far beyond immediate history or mythology. Harris ties 
together a European narrator/editor, Clive Goodrich, with Dr. Black 
Marsden who seems to have no neatly definable origins, and they, in 
turn, are united with Idiot Nameless/Fool who has actually created the 
collection which Goodrich edits and which becomes one more stage in 
Goodrich's lear'ning process. 

V.'e learn that the novel Goodrich creates is based on the journal 
and art collection of Idiot Nameless, made during a trip to Mexico. It 
appears that Idiot Nameless, having checked into the Gravity Hotel in 
Mexico City, sets out from there to explore the immediate environment 
and, in particular, the site of Montezuma's market place now buried 
beneath the contemporary buildings. Idiot Kam.eless explores, too, the 
surrounding countryside and volcanoes near the city. His explorations 
progress from city to countryside to woods, as the landscape becomes 
increasingly natural, and, as he moves through historic layers. Idiot 
Nameless seems to move closer to his "natural" self. He also moves 
through his own accumulated layers of culture and their influences on 
him. By incorporating historic names into his narrative, Harris is able 
to tie together new world and old world characters and concepts as 
Nameless moves by stages from familiar and accepted static attitudes 



123 
back in time through other iittitudes to the less familiar but probably 
no more superstitous beliefs of pre-Columbian men. By the end of the 
novel the initially strange names are familiar and take on additional 
meanings in context with the familiar: Tenochtitlan, Montezuma's market 
place, becomes the substratum of modern Mexico City where men are still 
bought and sold and no less sacrificed to appease modern "gods"; 
Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Sun of ancient Aztecs, is both the site 
of Nameless 's death and the metaphorical height from which he descends 
into himself with increased understanding; Popocatapetl, a nearly 
18, 000-f cot-high volcano outside Mexico City, is both part of the 
landscape and appears as a "headless man", perhaps a symbol of 
Nameless' s (Man's) condition in a difficult world. Even knowledge of 
the Aztec Emperor Montezuma, whose superstitions and inflexibility 
brought about his death, gives added meaning to Nameless' s search and 
discoveries. 

Mexico itself is still a land of dichotomies, embodying apparently 
irreconcilable differences which are often combined in the practices and 
attitudes of modern Mexicans. Like Mexico City, which is built layer 
upon layer, culture upon culture, on a lake of mud which both protects 
and limits it, Mexican beliefs are built up layer upon layer of pre- 
Columbian and Spanish ideas which result in a complex pattern allowing 
for cultural breadth and variety but sometimes resulting in open conflict 
among groups of people. Beneath the contemporary streets of the city 
are Aztec canals and temples as well as Tenochtitlan. Modern buildings 
are often built of the rubble of Aztec structures much as contemporary 
beliefs rest on a foundation of ancient beliefs. Both buildings and 
culture were systematically torn down by the conquering Spaniards but 



124 
could not be totally obliterated in a laiid whose people are fiercely 
independent and often secluded from modern influences. Even today 
contrasts are very much in evidence as Indian populations struggle 
against Spaniards, ancient religions like the Aztecs' x>7orship of the sun 
conflict with Catholicisra, and the very wealthy fight to maintain their 
pov7er against the growing influence of the extrenely poor masses. 

Aware of Mexico's contrasts, "layered" history, and explosive 
potential, Harris makes this country the setting and symbol of what 
might be termed his palimpsest sense of history. When Idiot Nameless 
journeys to Mexico City ("a dream he had long entertained") he is 
"astonished at his emotion of descent into a past that seemed his c\ra 
future" (p. 19). Seeking Sister Beatrice, a saintly nun who lived in 
Mexico City, and her fellow nuns Rose and Maria, Nameless discovers her 
granddaughter the whore, comes in contact with the ancient beliefs 
Beatrice sought to replace with Catholicism, visits the Pyramid of the 
Sun, Teotihuacan ("the place where the gods v^ere made"), and is himself 
"made" there through his experiences. Harris begins the novel with a 
quotation from a Puerto Rican folk song: "St. Joseph and Mary arrive at 
Bethlehem, they ask for an inn and it is denied them." This simulta- 
neously ties together historic and modem themes of sacrifice and 
rejected salvation, themes which will continue throughout the novel. 
Nameless, too, is rejected by those with whom he comes in contact. By 
the end of the story, when he visits Mrs. Black Marsden, he appears to 
her rejected, compassionate, and not lonely but totally alone. He began 
his journey less then two weeks before Easter, V7as swept up in a parade 
going into a church to celebrate mass, was seduced by Beatrice's 
granddaugliter (in much the same fashion Beatrice herself had seduced a 



125 
fool each year to play the role of Christ), and suffered a "fall" 
through histories and cultures. By means of these experiences. Nameless 
became a part of the ritual of sacrifice still associated with the 
religion which dominates Mexico today, yet his sacrifice, as filtered 
through the mind of Goodrich, hints at a new beginning as it also ties 
together Mexican and European, old and new world elements. 

The dead im.ages at the beginning of Goodrich's narrative are 
gradually replaced by more hopeful and life-giving, life-bearing images. 
He describes the "autumn leaves of manuscript" (p. 14) which look like 
so many leaves from a tree whose branches have grown bare in winter's 
cold. But these dead images fuse with their opposites in what Harris 
calls an "increased circulation of the light," until, by novel's end, we 
are left with the hopeful image of a young child. Though Nameless 's 
death in a fall from the pyramid of the sun fulfills the early promise 
of his death made at the beginning of the novel and reinforced when he 
is struck by the image of a pyramid on a curtain at the Marsdens', a 
curtain which billows up and strikes him, there is also the image of a 
miraculuous conception. Just before his death Nameless learns from Mrs. 
Black Marsden (who is also simultaneously a sort of split-personality of 
Sisters Rose and Maria) that Sister Beatrice's last deed was to take in 
a child which had been left on her doorstep wrapped in wrinkled news- 
papers, wrapped in the "garments of history." The multiple layers of 
sacrifice, like the multiple layers of Mexico's history which Harris 
uses, lead Nameless to a greater understanding of himself and through 
this understanding Goodrich, too, learns. 



126 

Nameless was dra^'ra to Mexico and to Sister Beatrice to seek answers 

to questions he could not even concretely state, but through his 

experiences he learns to see more clearly: 

To taste is to see . To taste is to descend into black spaces, 
Kulti-fonn spaces, eyes of gravity in the fire-eater's model. 
Firing squad of sensations. l\^o holes. Tv7o eyes. Numberless 
number. Numberless dying. Numberless living. . . It was the 
beginning of the child of humanity — the beginning of the obscurity 
of pity, the obscurity of antecedents, the new fall or Fool born 
outside of his time. Forced into conception. . . A conception of 
unsuspected dimensions written into the passive birth or death of 
objects reflected into history. . . (p. 52) 

Continued in both Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wildeniess and 

later in The Tree of the Sun , this image of a conception, a child, grows 

increasingly positive as Harris's narrators become better able to see 

the realities of their worlds rather than investing in static and 

invalid forms. The child is a product of the imagination of Nameless in 

his dream conversation with Sisters Maria and Rose. The child, Harris 

implies, is also the product of Joanna's realization that Sister 

Beatrice sacrificed more than anyone had previously recognized in her 

struggles to continue doing what she believed was right even in the face 

of conflicts which resulted in her death. 

'Vlhat I do feel now' , her voice was struggling to maintain its 
paradox, its force like a displaced sibylline feud of pride and 
prejudice, 'is that her trial of values, her scandal, her supreme 
trial of values, her supreme scandal, is the exposure of a dead 
world dressed in all the garments of history and even now — at this 
late state — it has led me to conceive, miraculously conceive . . .' 
(p. 50) 

Though she is more than eighty years old Joanna, like Sarah in Genesis , 

"conceives" a child. Through her generosity toward others and her 

search for an improved world, she forces Nameless/Goodrich/ the reader to 

question the habits of cultures, the "garments of history" to which we 

needlessly and painfully sacrifice ourselves and others. It is 



127 
certainly a key to understanding the passage in the novel to recognize 
the "habit" Sister Joanna and others wear is both the dress of a nun and 
the cultural and traditional habits we all "wear." 

Harris's concept of "wearing" cultural and traditional habits is 
reminiscent of Thomas Carlyle's philosophical theory that "all human 
beings are, have been and forever wi] 1 be, in Movement and Change." As 
he writes in Characteristics : 

Thus in all Poetry, VIorship, Art, Society, as one form passes into 
another, nothing is lost: it is but the superficial, as it were the 
body only, that grows obsolete and dies; under the mortal body lies 
a soul which is immortal; which anew incarnates itself in fairer 
revelation; and the Present is the living sum-total of the whole 
Past. 2 

This line of thought is continued in what has become known as Carlyle's 

"Clothes Philosophy," which is expounded in numerous chapters of Sartor 

Resartus . Carlyle is doubly appropriate here for, just as the editor of 

Sartor Resartus patches together the story of Diogenes Teufelsdrockh, 

so, too, does Clive Goodrich of Companions patch together Idiot 

Nameless 's story. Both editors are concerned less with a chronological 

reconstruction of events in the lives of the main characters than they 

are with the analysis and comprehension of the "reality" they find 

within the characters. As George H. Ford explains: 

In effect this Clothes Philosophy is an attempt to demonstrate the 
difference between the appearances of things and their reality. 
The appearance of a m.an depends upon the costume he wears; the 
reality of a man is the body underneath the costume. By analogy, 
Carlyle suggests that institutions, such as churches or 
governments, are like clothes. They nay be useful 'visible 
emblems' of the spiritual forces which they^cover, but they wear 
out and have to be replaced by new clothes. 

Carlyle's "Clothes Philosophy" has some connections with Jung's 

interest in the layered nature of the human personality. As Ford 

suggests: 



128 

The Clothes Philosophy has much in cc:!Jii:on v;ith the theory of 
archetypal experiences developed in the 20th century by the 
psychiatrist Carl Jung. Carlyle exizends his analogy, however, into 
XTAv.y other areas. Clothes hide the body just as the world of 
nature cloaks the reality of God and as the body itself cloaks the 
reality of man's soul. The discovery of these realities behind the 
appearances is, for Carlyle, and for his hero, the initial stage of 
a solution to the dilemmas of life. 

Harris, whose relations to Jung have already been discussed in Chapter 
4, incorporates a "Clothes Philosophy" into his novels. His narrators 
and characters frequently refer to accumulated layers of historic selves 
or cultural patterns. In Companions Sister Joanna describes the meta- 
physical difference between Europe and Mexico. In Europe (with some 
qualifications), "a metaphysic has been ironed out, fought over for 
centuries, and finally established lucid and firm for all to obey" (p. 
49. But in Mexico: 

a cleavage exists within the ethics of sacrifice entertained by 
divided civilizations, different cultures rooted in pre-Columbian, 
post-Columbian worlds, pre-revolutionary , post-revolutionary 
states. And within that cleavage action is largely m.eaningless 
until one strips away from it a body of encrusted habit that trades 
on the exploitation of culture by cultura. (pp. 49-50) 

It is through the artist's model, granddaughter of Sister Beatrice, 

that Nameless comes to his fullest realization of his own relationship 

to the nuns, to the child, and to the Christ-like role he too must play 

as a compassionate and abandoned sacrificial victim. After her initial 

procession and rape Beatrice seduced a Fool each year to play the part 

of Christ at Easter. Idiot Nam.ele3s/Fool is seduced by her granddaughter 

and finds himself wearing garments of sacrifice: 

'I am implicated in a tension of bodily and bodiless pasts, tongues 
of darkness, tongues of light, unconfessed elements.' The Fool 
shivered. . . [a workman tosses him a coat] The Idiot slipped into 
it, shivering still, as into another's grave, Stone Emperor's 
blood, bullet-ridden workonan. The smell of vulgar death was in his 
nostrils. 'No,' the overcoat said to him. 'Not death, heroic 
strife. No, not death I say, a hero's grave, yes death, brute 
death. . . Whose coat. . . death do I wear?' (p. 66) 



129 
By continuously questioning, contrasting and revising his concept 
of past and present events, the Fool is able to bring about a 
"circulation of light" and freedora of vision (akin to the vision or the 
eye of the scarecrow) which in Harris's vocabulary implies a freedom 
from static forms and eclipsing traditions. It is only through the rape 
of Beatrice's virginal stasis and the "circulating body of whoredom" of 
her granddaughter that the Fool can escape death, or be liberated from 
the fatal traditions which had limited his growth and prevented him from 
seeing his relationship to others. The alchemical concept of the 
circulation of light, is used here to suggest the flow of vision, the 
active exercise of one's imagination, which revises and reassesses 
present and past, Spanish and Aztec, Christian and pagan concepts, new 
and old world values, bypassing "bloodclots of vision, fixed ways of 
seeing and feeling in a vessel of any given culture, time or place. 
The individual may, as is the case with the Fool, be involved in an 
involuntary process which frees him from his blindness and transfuses 
him with new insights, new feelings, new visions, "laying siege to the 
heart of darkness." 

In the process of going through the journals of Idiot Nameless 's 
travels in Mexico, Clive Goodrich recognizes the form of a growing 
vision. Idiot Nameless dies when he falls from the pyramid of the sun. 
He falls through cultures and histories, his garments unravel, garments 
of history and culture; he is likened to the spark of conscience, or a 
unity of vision, in the lives of men. When asked by the angry and 
impertinent workman where the spark has fallen, into what and whom, the 
Fool replies: 

Into institutions. . . Into everything that models the shape of the 
world we live in, the kind of demands we make of each other and 



130 
have been making for so lon^ wc can't even remember when we 
started. Into the highest caiavases, if you like, sculptures of the 
land. For if we are to move them, trt^nsform them in the slightest 
real way, we need to regress into them as sacrificed bodies into 
which a spark fell and still falls. . . We need to see from within 
the roles that are played by others in our name, and in the name of 
the nameless forgotten dead, the nameless forgotten living. VJe 
need to regress into our most f o/nriidable and implacable rituals for 
they dress us up like mummified children at a fair. . . (p. 65) 

It is only through a union of opposites — male/female, god/goddess. 

Nameless /Beatrice — that a true fulfillment begins to take shape. Once 

he (or Beatrice/Joanna) , is able to recognize his vulnerability and 

polarity, as well as a need for the Other (whatever that Other may be), 

the Fool is open to all the potentidis of growth and to the reconnecting 

of the diverse elements of his soul (p. 60). As Ivan Van Sertima has 

argued, the Fool, man's consciousness, must, through Beatrice: 

pursue and recover that lost element of Conscience, whose shadowy 
role she plays, being the light/dark principle, virgin/whore muse 
of heaven and hell. Joined in substance they may provide the 
nucleus or seed of a new heterogeneous identity. Theirs is the 
union vital to the generation of a new universe or dimension of 
feeling, vital to the birth of the new 'child of humanity.' 

Until man can achieve this unity he is "destined to fall into apparently 

self-created seas and lands and skies as other cloaks of sacrificed 

existences" (p. 70). 

Within these self-created lands and seas and skies man will 

continue to "cannibalize" others, to feed off them whether spiritually 

or economically, and to wear the masks imposed by culture and tradition. 

Goodrich begins to recognize this "cannibal" tendency and begins, 

therefore, to be able to free himself from it. 

Perhaps every man knows he is being dreamt into existence by 
others, conceived by others; a sense in which he likewise dreams 
others ii\to existence as husband/father to places and times, as 
Fool to every ghost-child he entertains or hunts with pitiful, 
pitiless ambition. A sense in which every revolution of the hunt, 
every religion of the sexes, is related to a potentiality for 
childbearing, ghost-bearing, capsules of ambition — the unborn 



131 

child/ghost of hope for some, the never-to-be born child/ghost of 
aborted future for others. Related therefore to a ceremony of 
expectations and of silent mourning concealed perhaps from oneself 
but active in every career night and day as fate. (p. 44) 

The Fool comes to see through Beatrice's fellow nuns. Sisters Rose and 
Ilaria, and to recognize in Joanna's "window-pane laugh," that to be born 
is to be unmade, to be broken in "the dream-play of history in compensa- 
tion for unfulfilled models of sovereign subsistence" (p. 77). By being 
"born" through others, by recognizing his connections to and need of 
them he can appreciate that: 

to be born was to descend into a depth of frustrated appetite and 
need arching back across centuries — a rage for lost anchorages, 
lost securities that made him a vulnerable body of time with a 
reflected/glimpsed capacity to engross others within roles that 
were curiously unconscious of self-brutalised, self-cannibalised 
antecedents and peerages of the depths and the heights. (p. 78) 

Because he suffers from "the falling sickness" the Fool searches 

for a cure, seeks to understand the "fall of man," and at the end of his 

life after climbing to the heights of the pyramid of the sun, the 

heights of ancient traditions, he "falls" literally and metaphorically 

from the pyramid (p. 79), from traditions, through the institutions of 

man and into new understanding. Having experienced both the depths and 

the heights of his own journey and those of others he has learned true 

compassion. Harris further emphasizes the theme by having Nameless stay 

at the Gravity Hotel and suffer from an "excess of gravity." This can 

be interpreted as both a problem of an excess of seriousness as well as 

a reference to his falling sickness and the fall of man. Prior to his 

death, and just before he visits the home of Sisters Maria and Rose, he 

feels himself becoming a "log," a flying log, which falls from a cloud, 

from a "cloud-plane" to the ground where he takes a "cloud-taxi" and 



132 
visits "Rockefeller Cloud Center" in Nev7 York, all images of "clouded" 
or imperfect vision. 

Increasingly alone, he senses both the horror and the beauty of his 
situation and is riddled with holes by the sky-god, holes which would 
allow life,ht to pass through to him and enable him to see better. He 
recognizes that he must either move through the doors of experience 
slowly, digesting the elements as he goes, or face the difficixlty of 
being unable to properly contend with the world lit by "dwarfed light" 
and "haunted by a mission of thwarted beauty at the base of the world" 
(p. 72). 

Utterly alone, but not lonely, the Fool makes his final visit to 
Mrs. Black Marsden and through her to Sisters Maria and Rose whose parts 
she has come to play. Though Nameless has come to an understanding of 
his relationship to others, not all people have reached the same degree 
of comprehension. Mrs. Black Marsden "confesses" many things to him but 
is unable to accept him fully. Though he seems to her to be Christ, "if 
anyone could be Christ in the late twentieth century," she recoils from 
his request to stay with her for a uight and a day and turns him away. 
"Ke looked at her then. And his eyes were alone. Not lonely. Unfathom- 
able alone. Wholly compassionate, wholly seeing," (p. 83). She wonders 
whether she has just rejected the Fool/Christ and what effect that will 
have on history to come. 

She felt a kind of rage at herself and she slammed the door fast in 
his face. The sound echoed through the house like the fall of a 
heavy mask to the floor, an uncommon m^ask generations would invest 
with rage and begin to seek, as threshold to inner faces, inner 
encounters. (p. 83) 

Though the Fool dies on Easter weekend, he has completed the circle 
of rejection Harris indicated by the lines from the Puerto Rican song. 



133 
for just as Mary and Joseph were turned away with the Christ child from 
the inn, the Fool/Christ is turned away from the door of nan today. 
However, Harris has built in a hope for the future in the knowledge 
gained by Clive Goodrich as he "re-tailors" Naiseless's journal, and in 
the form of the child whicli was left on the nun's doorstep. This child 
reappears as the child Julia and Francis have through Jen and Da Silva 
in the next novel. Da Silva da Silva' s Cultivated Wilderness . Harris 
also suggests the redemption of man through a reconciliation of 
opposites and through a process of education at the hands of those who, 
like Idiot Nameless, can serve as our guides into a better world free of 
static forms and traditions. As readers we too become involved in the 
palimpsest. We "edit" Harris's novels in order to move toward the kind 
of understanding Goodrich also seeks as he edits the Nameless collection. 



Notes 

Wilson Harris, "Reflection and Vision," in Commonwealth 
Literature and the Modern World , ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Liege, Belgium: 
Revue des Langues Vivantes, 1975), p. 16. 

2 

Thomas Carlyle, "Characteristics," in Critical and Miscellaneous 

Essays , Vol. II, (Boston: Dana Estes and Co., 1869) p. 379. 

3 

George H. Ford, introduction "Sartor Resartus" by Thomas Carlyle 
in Norton Anthology of English Literature , ed. M.H. Abrams and others. 
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1968), p. 771. 

George H. Ford, introduction "Sartor Resartus," p. 773. 

Ivan Van Sertima, "Into the Black Hole," unpublished manuscript. 



p. 16. 
6 



Ivan Van Sertima, "Into the Black Hole," p. 16. 
Ivan Van Sertima, "Into the Black Hole," p. 21. 



CIlAl'TER 6 

DA SILVA DA SILVA'S CULTIVATED WILDERI^tESS (1977) 

The creation of an awareness, a "presence," within the major 
character is the dominant theme of uost of Harris's books and Da Silva 
da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness is no exception. In each of the novels 
of the Guiana Quartet, the protagonist, representing collective as well 
as individual entities, suffers through processes of disintegration. 
After the Quartet, however, Harris's novels open with characters who, 
having already suffered disintegration, tend to gain knowledge and to 
re-integrate their psyches through an interplay of imagination, memory, 
and projection into the future. Instead of undergoing disintegration in 
the course of the novel they re-experience their lives in terras of their 
own personal existence and also in terms of their membership in a 
particular cultural group and in the human community as a whole. 

Da Silva in Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness re-experiences 
his life's journey in his imagination, and through re-experiencing it 
comes to understand for the first time the immense symbolic significance 
of the events. Literally, the artist Da Silva paints scenes from his 
experience and imagination; figuratively, he "paints" his way about his 
flat, out the door and down the streets of London. 

Harris thus combines, in his own unique fashion, two twentieth- 
century fictional conventions: the novel of retrospective reflection and 

134 



135 

tha K linsclerroman , the portrait of the artist as a young man. Himself 

the author of an integrative fictional vision, Harris describes an 

artist in the process of creating a whole from scattered memories and 

imaginative syntheses. Da Silva's canvas is analagous to Harris's 

novel, and if we seem to have in the latter a finished product we are 

reminded by the former of the difficult process of imaginative creation. 

Just as Donne, in Palace of the Peacock , suddenly realizes that he has 

relived an earlier expedition, so Da Silva becomes aware of a greater 

meaning of events in his own life. 

There was a subtle intrusion of epic, a subtle mythical code of 
implicit heroism or pathos or terror, diffusions of influence or 
style East to West, West to East, North to South, South to North, 
that took root in his brush as he painted techniques and frames, 
glittering saddles of Chinese dragons from Hong Kong, gunpowder, 
neolithic wheat, pre-Columbian maize, aeroplane saddles, into 
distillations of ancient barbarism and modern power politics 
masquerading as purist masks of technology across the imprisoned 
centuries from which the magi-prodigals set out again and again, 
the star-gazing prodigals within each tent of ancient and modern 
commonwealth. (p. 73) 

And, when he learns that his wife Jen is pregnant, a pregnancy that has 

haunted him throughout the novel but of which he has been consciously 

unaware: 

He was immediately filled with joy. And then fear. Fear of 
responsibilities he could not gauge; fear almost at the depth of 
his love for Jen; fear at the orphaned status of man in the animal 
kingdom and the ceaseless necessity to contemplate losses of 
primordial subjectivity and unerring compass built into a uniform 
glove through which the faculty of the human imagination was born 
for middle-ground regained heaven and earth or stumbling light and 
darkness; fear at a daemon of species as the first prodigal in 
nature. (p. 77) 

Unlike Clive Goodrich who had to learn to move step by step with 

the help of the shaman figures, first Black Marsden and then Idiot 

Nameless, Da Silva recognizes the "garments of history" in which he has 

been dressed, garments which govern the actions and interaction of 



136 
people, the ritual habits of the cultures and times into which he 

descends. He has struggled against the forms which have tried to 

contain him, appearing to both Jen and riaaya cs a "mad man." He sees 

correspondences between persons living and dead, between events of today 

and their historical counterparts, and begins to judge these elements 

and seek for a more favorable comprehension of h.is own place in time and 

role in events. Da Silva's growing awareness of these parallel or 

converging elements provides an example of Harris's use of synchronicity. 

Da Silva feels mental ties to history as Da Silva Magellan, social 
ties to others as a "father" to Paul as well as protector to Paul's 
mother Manya. He senses family ties to his own father who was also a 
Magellan and to his adopted father. Sir Giles, whose young wife Da Silva 
never knew; he also feels responsibility to Jen, his own wife, and their 
unborn child. Because of his Arawak-Portuguese blood he is aware of the 
multiplicity of roles he must play as both Commonwealth man and New 
World man. 

Karris sees the Commonwealth Da Silva as an attempt on his part to 
explore a "vacancy" in nature within which agents appear who are trans- 
lated one by the other and who "reappear through each other, inhabit 
each other, reflect a burden of necessity, push each other to plunge 
into the unkno^^m into the untranslatable, transmutable legacies of 
history." Da Silva explores these multiple facets of the Commonwealth 
through his own genetic legacies as well as those of others. Though his 
journey is sedentary compared to those of Donne in Palace of the Peacock 
and Victor in Ascent to Omai , his journey is complicated, involving a 
deep introspective movement through deeds and confrontations to a 
comprehension of his life and position. 



137 

He seeks to see into and through Manya, Cuffey, and Jen as well as 

hirdself for he seems to believe, like the fool in Companions of the D ay 

a nd Night ; that "if we are to move then [institutions], transform them 

in the slightest real way, we need to regress into then ... we need to 

see from within the roles that are played by others in our name, and in 

the name of the nameless forgotten dead, and the nameless forgotten 

living" (p. 65). In one of his moments of insight Da Silva recognizes 

that regression through socially accumulated layers of institutions and 

psyche will enable bin to heal his divided self. Playing upon the 

parable of the prodigal son, he recounts how: 

The word prodigal came home to me with a force I could not then 
recognize. And yet, little though I knew it, it had settled into a 
pool of paint over my eyes; I was blinded by tears; and at the 
heart of my age I began to await the genie's return back through a 
wilderness of flight from duty that becomes meaningless, 
performance that becomes hollow, objective journey back, objective 
homecoming of spirit. (p. 30) 

This "paint" clouds Da Silva' s vision until the end of the novel 
when all the various images of fertility and pending birth suddenly come 
together and he sees for the first time on a conscious level the signs 
and symbols, the hints toward synchrcnicity , that had suggested to his 
subconscious that a new force was coming into life, that of a child both 
literally and metaphorically. 

For Harris the child is an a-social being: the simplest form of the 
naked soul able to unclothe itself, to shave off social accumulations 
and to look with naked eyes /naked spirit, and to escape the past and all 
the things coded into the human psyche. This "nakedness" has become the 
equivalent of consciousness. Fool, and God for Karris. 

Wliile Clive Goodrich was able to achieve this "nakedness" only 
through the somewhat forceful intercession of first Black Karsden and 



138 
then Idiot Nameless, Da Silvci has reached the point of understanding 
more directly. Perhaps he contains within his psyche the ghosts of the 
other Da Silvas v;ho "lived" in earlier Karris novels. Now, like the 
bird evolved from the dinosaur, or the bone flute of Carib mythology. Da 
Silva contains remnants, cultural memories, or threads of historic 
garu.ents which influence his perceptions. Having suffered through the 
process of psychic disintegration in earlier "lives," he is learning to 
see through and beyond surface realities by means of the scarecrow eye. 
Da Silva can, by novel's end, accept the responsibility not only for his 
own life but for that of the child he and Jen have created. Like 
Cristo, in The Whole Armour , Da Silva and his child present an ever more 
positive hope for man's future. 

The positive hope Da Silva embodies in his educated consciousness 
and expresses on canvas rests on the notion of the availability to all 
men of cultural residues and a "skeleton" consciousness. Such residues 
and such a consciousness must be striven for, however. Harris dramatizes 
the embodiment of a vestigial ("bone of the dinosaur") consciousness 
when he has certain characters speak in a manner apparently beyond their 
surface capabilities as when Legba Cuffey exhibits an "encyclopedic" 
memory (p. 12). Cuffy's name, one should note, is historical and when 
he speaks his utterances represent an accumulation of history, a group 
consciousness. The historic Cuffey v/as a revolutionary figure in the 
Caribbean, Legba was a god in Haiti and the West Indies, and both appear 
in Da Silva' s Brazilian mural as manifestations of his own solidarity 
with his West Indian past and as signs of his synthesizing powers as an 
artist. 



139 

Cuffey is but one example of Harris's overlapping characters. Not 
only names are layered, the characters theniselves often coincide, 
appearing sometimes to be so inter\voven as to appear inseparable to the 
reader. Though this technique appeared as early as Palace of the 
Peacock with the "twins" of the Narrator and his brother, the intermin- 
gling of psyches becomes increasingly complex in the course of the 
novels. Here we have characters who appear in Da Silva's life and may 
appear in his paintings. They may speak to him from his paintings as 
well as to him in public. In Companions Harris used the technique to 
incorporate all the various facets of the female into one form: 
Beatrice/ Joanna/Rose /Maria/Mrs. Black Marsden all seemed to flow into 
and through each other, thus multiplying the significance of their deeds 
as they embodied in their composite form the image of "the mothers of 
Guyana. 

In Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness it is the male 
characters who overlap and interinanimate one another, rather than the 
women, perhaps to signify that they are the "fathers" of Guyana. Da 
Silva the artist had advertised for a black model to use for his 
Brazilian mural. He needed a man who could serve as the model for the 
historic figure of Cuffey and the god Legba. Harris includes an aspect 
of synchronicity when the model who answers Da Silva's advertisement not 
only is named Legba Cuffey but also limps. Da Silva confronts Cuffey as 
Legba, Legba in turn confronts Cuffey, and Da Silva confronts the 
composite Legba Cuffey, each addressing the "lame image" of the other 
(pp. 9-11). Da Silva Magellan staggers like a child learning to walk 
and Cuffey has a misshapen foot (p. 11). Da Silva (like a more famous 
"lamefoot," Oedipus) is indeed trying to learn to walk in a social and 



140 

psychological sense and to solve a sphinx's riddle of his own. The 

suggestion of autochthony here reinforces Da Silva's cyChical role as a 

representative nscdern hero. Unlike other writers' protagonists who 

leap, as it were, from learning to vralk to running a marathon, the 

protagonist of a Harris novel is not given a simple solution to his 

problems or a happy-ever-after ending. Rather, the implication is left 

with the reader that the condition of Da Silva's world is improving but 

that he must continue to struggle to maintain and to grow. 

To be sure. Da Silva is the most psychologically integrated and 

positive of Harris's protagonists so far. Through his understanding of 

his relations to other individuals and other cultures, Da Silva 

transforms these personal and historic relations into aesthetic 

relations of form and color on his canvases, within the frame of which 

he seeks to establish a dialogue between strength and weakness, between 

"the elements of change" (p. 10). Once again Da Silva is Harris's 

surrogate, the symbolic and assimilating artist: 

Da Silva assimilates each brush stroke into his canvases as if to 
heighten and deepen the enigma of change through a crevice or crack 
in the muse of space as if his turtle's eye were this woman's 
child's eye woven into the painted dress she wears as into 
topographies of tradition. (p. 72) 

Increasingly in his novels, Harris has used the image of the artist 

or painter as a creative force in society. Victor sketches while 

writing a novel in Asc ent to Omai , Frank Wei] ington doodles in the 

margins of the pay book in Genesis of the CIo^vTis , and Goodrich seeks to 

edit and give form to the Nameless collection of papers, sculptures, and 

painting in Black Marsden. As always, however, what is important is the 

process of painting, not the finished product. What Harris seeks is the 

growth of the individual through his perceptions and his attempts to 



141 
portray those perceptions in aesthetic form and not the "completion" of 
either self or art object. 

Indeed, the completed canvas becomes a metaphor for the static 
condition Harris v;ishes to avoid. This is especially obvious with Da 
Silva, for the canvas as it is being painted has the most intense 
meaning for him. He only gradually becomes aware of the elements that 
appear in his works as they haunt him and change in shape and size 
depending upon his own state of mind and awareness. Not until his 
conscious mind becomes aware of their "shape" and "texture" is he able 
to intelligently interpret his paintings. Da Silva recognizes the 
meanings in his artistic forms when he learns that Jen is pregnant; this 
knowledge explains the repeated growth of images, the foetal shapes and 
"seeds of paint.'" 

Da Silva and the reader receive hints of growth in a comparison of 
two time periods and events. Seven years separate the two incidents 
with Kate who visits him about Manya's neglect of her son Paul. At the 
time of the first visit the images are dead, still: an "unlighted 
television set", an "unlighted coat", "ruined bath house in a cul-de- 
sac", "corpses of fashion", "winter sun", "winter box" and "unlit stone" 
(pp. 16-19). These images are exchanged for more potent ones seven 
years later: "seed of a sketch", "seed of paint", and a footnote that 
"burgeons and ascends into a life-size mural." 

' Wliat do you yourself see ?' 'I see the anguish of being healed. I 
see a loss of expectation in the resurrected living who thought 
they were about to die. I see myself. I see one of the obscure 
impulses to prove survival in the nature of revolution, in the 
healed dead as they step back to the dead dead in order to reach 
fons^ards to the living living. A question of proof.' (p. 37) 



142 
By the time Jen tells Da Silva she is pregnant these images have 
coalesced in his mind, the subtle hints have blossomed into realization 
and he now is prepared for and can accept her news. 

Da Silva reacts to his surroundings as a painter with an historical 
perspective. He "paints" his way down London streets and through areas 
of decay where the "paint seeped out of the sky, in orchestrated delicacy 
touched by unfathomable peace, ... as if to alert him to the reality 
of the radiant city within every city, the reality of the genie's gift, 
the genie's potential reconstruction" (p. 63). One is reminded again of 
Blake, both of the Blake who "wander (ed) through each chartered 
street, /Near where the chartered Thames does flow" ("London," 1794) and 
of the Blake who could see (in Harris's terns) "the reality of the 
radiant city within every city," the Blake who hoped (in his own terms) 
to build Jerusalem among the "dark Satanic Mills" ("And Did Those Feet," 
1810). Blake's visionary eye, like Harris's eye of the scarecrow, 
allows for a vision beyond the corporeal. 

Da Silva not only paints people as composites of themselves and 
historical and imaginative figures, he creates an image of society as 
multi-faceted as his characters. The Commonwealth becomes metaphorically 
as well as graphically a tent of three levels with a central pole. The 
levels of the tent are equated to the three major areas of the world 
where the Commonwealth derived its strength and its existence: the lower 
deck (Canada, Australia, India, Bangladesh and New Zealand), the middle 
deck and area of the middle passage (Africa) , and the upper deck (the 
Caribbean). This architecture is made of people: representative 
individuals like Legba Cuffey, groups of people like Queen Jenine Gold 
as queen and representative of all her subjects, and Da Silva both an 



143 

individual and representative man. Da Silva's double name plays on the 

image of being a man "of the forest" or natural man as well as the man 

who cultivates or "civilizes" part of the forest or wilderness. Da 

Silva seeks through his imagination to cultivate or put in order the 

wilderness of his mind, of Holland Park, London, and of the rest of the 

world. He has the double, or scarecrow, vision of new and old world 

amplified by his artistic vision. 

Light was real, as concrete, as wood or brick or marble or glass, 
perhaps more real, perhaps more concrete as living body within an 
aged costume. Here was the inimitable substance of a new 
architecture. (p. 63) 

Harris incorporates the symbols of technological modern man (the 

airplane) with the artist and creator in the first paragraph of the book 

describing Da Silva's recurring dream. 

The instant the aircraft crashed into the lake everything seemed 
still yet threaded into explosion and seizure by the elements. Da 
Silva saw himself a stranger to himself in the mirror of the lake 
as a giant chair drew him up and a brush stroke of water rose into 
the air to paint the sky. Perhaps he had been painted there 
himself by another hand a breath's passage away from the earth. 
Perhaps this was a new involuntary beginning, another cultivated 
wilderness. (p. 3) 

Da Silva (man) crashes into the lake to emerge with a renewed 

vision. Throughout the book, water's role is important, for example in 

the form of pools which provide a source of vision or a catalyst for 

thought and reflection. There is a pool-like tennis court at the back 

of Da Silva's flat, another near the "Wilderness" theatre, a pool-like 

sky which Da Silva sees reflected in the windows of people's homes, and 

the pool used as an image for contrasting areas of London. Just as 

names and characters appear and connect in a Harris novel, so too does 

the imagery of water tie together the different cultures and times. 

Like the flow of the water, the "flow" of Da Silva's artistic vision 



144 
yields increasing understanding, a growth of "circulation of the light," 
images he paints on canvas: 

Da Silva painted the lake, he painted the buried rivers that flowed 
beneath the London streets, he painted a canal in ancient 
Tenochtitlan on which Montezuir.a sailed and it was as if they all 
moved together and were one principle of advancing, complex, shadow 
or light within the mystery of a tidal body that vanished to 
reappear again where one least expected it. (p. 15) 

For Da Silva the rain and water cleanse his environment; sky and 
earth "copulate," revealing layers of potentialities which mingle with 
everyday illusions of bodies, streets, and elements of vision to yield 
an "unstressed awareness" and "implicit strength" (p. 13). Again, the 
stress is on images of pregnancy and increasing awareness and strength 
through awareness. The fertile fields of the artist's imagination have 
provided him with a growing sense of hope. 

The possibility of salvation or renewal through a comprehension of 
the forces of one's environment, implied by the repeated water imagery, 
is also quite literally a part of Da Silva' s experiences. As a child he 
was adopted by Sir Giles Marsden-Priuce after a flood and cyclone 
destroyed the orphanage where he lived. Even as a child playing under a 
table he pretended the table was a boat and Sir Giles's brown shoes were 
smaller boats that sailed into his waters when Sir Giles entered the 
library where he played. 

Harris uses a type of resurrection theme in addition to the 
salvation theme implied by the constant presence of water. There is 
frequent reference to someone who lives through another person, is bom 
at the time of another's death, or is suddenly cured when death seemed 
imminent. Both Da Silva and Manya were rescued from an orphanage 
destroyed in a flood then taken to better lives in a new country. Da 
Silva was born on the day his adoptive mother died, and his adoptive 



145 

father died trying to rescue a young child from a busy street. Paul's 

father, suffering from leukemia and with only a short time to live, 

sought to live on in the creation of a son only to be "miraculously" 

cured. There is a positive trend, too, when one person's death is no 

longer apparently the prerequisite for another's life. Da Silva, 

following Sir Giles's example, tries to rescue a young child and 

survives. He also becomes a sort of adopted father to Paul and is even 

able to gain benefit and a revitalized consciousness by sharing in the 

abortion and birth experiences with Manya and Kate. Later, in the most 

positive way of all, he shares with his own wife Jen the pregnancy which 

provides the conclusion of the book, the culmination of threads of 

thought in Da Silva' s mind and paintings, and the hope for man's future. 

Harris's positive vision, however, is never complacent; it takes a full 

look at the worst and understanding grows out, sometimes, of that look. 

Da Silva is aware of the repetitions of lives and deaths through time: 

Poor healed Magellan. . . never ceases to prove himself. Dies on 
every foreign beach. Poor shot Cuffey. . . He never ceases to 
live. Lives in every foreign bar. (p. 49) 

Through understanding histories, personal and social. Da Silva sifts out 
the pain in his world to learn what it is that makes a "prodigal return" 
possible. By vicariously dying with Cuffey and suffering pain with 
Manya when her relationship with Paul is threatened. Da Silva comes to 
grips with his own pain and renews his painter's personal vision. Da 
Silva' s "unlit canvases" suddenly release a "child-genie of objective 
love," and his hands retrace lines in his paintings, releasing "child- 
light at the top of his brush" (p. 25). 

The image of resurrection is repeated in the peacock vjhich appears 
when Cuffey dies. Da Silva sees it first when "like a newborn painter" 



146 

he crawls through the legs oi the camera as Cuffey lies on the ground. 

The image of being born, emerging throtigh the. legs, is repeated as the 

peacock is oescribed as having to work its way into the action 

surrounding Cuffey by coning "through the legs of the fence" (p. 58). 

Suddenly aflame, suddenly drawn or redrawn by a complex hand to 
mingle with the feathered eyes in the peacock's coat until a new 
instinctive flag or crutch of humanity half-emerged, half-retreated 
into space. (p. 58) 

Images of birth are combined with images of unravelling a flag ("garments 

of history") or of a cradle, or of a nakedness of vision — "regenerated 

eyes that focused with newfound compassion" (p. 58). 

The peacock which appeared in Palace of the Peacock as the primary 

image reappears here as a symbol for the same totality and fulfillment 

experienced by Donne and his crew. It is well paired here with the 

repeated images of water and other motifs found in Palace. As Fleming 

Brahms has observed, the peacock functions as an image of "unity and 

diversity, constant change and eternal continuity; a profound and 

difficult vision of essential unity within the most bitter forms of 

3 

latent and active historical diversity." 

The continuity of life is stressed in the novel as, appropriately. 
Da Silva believes that physical death is not final death. Even though 
both Sir Giles and Jen's father are physically dead he sees them as 
alive since they live in his memory and in Jen's. Even as death occurs 
life goes on: there is the tinkle of a piano while dancers limber up for 
an afternoon ballet in Holland Park as Cuffey lies dying. Ke is the 
ghost of history and tradition which haunt Da Silva and force him to 
renew his vision. "No. He's more than an actor. He's real . His ghost 
technicality is the mother of invention. I f only you could see it from 
w ithin yourself " (p. 60). 



147 
The resurrection of his paintings, resurrection of individuals, and 
resurrection of his hopes are tied together in the women who appear in 
Da Silva's life. Each of the three women is, or has been, pregnant. 
Each appears self-sufficient but has scars of experience and basic needs 
that Da Silva becomes aware of as he continues to grow and his vision is 
clarified, brought into focus. It is not they who change but Da Silva's 
vision of them that is modified. 

Predictably, the women who appear in Da Silva's world are both 
individuals and facets of the universal woman. Sir Giles' wife, Kate, 
Manya and Jen all embody a particular type of personality and yet each 
is incomplete and needs the others to form the total women or muse. 
Hena Maes-Jelinek suggests: "The muse is also the archetypal mother, 
and she is usually of mixed white and Amerindian origin. She is obvious- 
ly meant as a link between modern man and primitive imagination." 
Modern man, Harris feels, is always trying to take advantage of her even 
though she is trying to free us from the cells of time in which we are 
locked. 

Manya, is a curious example of a madonna figure. Coming from 
Brazil as an orphan she was adopted by officials at the British Embassy 
at the time of the same cyclone and flood which left Da Silva homeless. 
Later, in London, when Da Silva meets her, her house is the only one 
still habitable in the disintegrating row of houses on the cul-de-sac 
where she lives. "The other houses wore cracked or crooked glasses, 
eyeless windows, that seemed to wait upon Manya' s to echo ultimately a 
sea of desolation which was unlike the rich masts and tides Da Silva had 
painted within the new houses in Addison Road" (p. 16). As she is a 
model with a reputation for chaos, it is not surprising that her flat 



148 
buould be described as littered with morsels of half-eaten food and 
strewn with "corpses of fashion." She lives in an abused "environment 
of changelessness and unconsumed norsels of spirit that left a trail of 
disorder in their wake" (p. 18). She horrifies Da Silva and yet he is 
dravm to her, loathing her for hsr "darkness of sense." If she is a 
madonna figure. Da Silva is unable to recognize this, unable to help 

her. 

Sir Giles offers an explanation for Manya's condition in the world: 
"Where innocence is hammered or deceived or rejected it frames itself 
increasingly with terrible poison" (p. 41). Da Silva imagines Manya as 
a Medea figure. Both savaged and savage, she has suffered the possible 
loss of her son and sought by whatever means at her disposal to retain 
him. Da Silva understands something of this savagery since as a painter 
he also had to strike blows, to save and despoil. VJhen he thought that 
the portrait of Sir Giles' young wife might be sold at auction and be 
unappreciated by its new owner, he struck at the painting with a hanmier 
to damage it so no one else would want it, planning to repair the damage 
later himself. Just as this attempt failed so, too, did his attempts 
with Manya fail, when he tried to understand her relationship with 
Paul's father, Magellan. Both men had been shocked and repulsed by 
Manya's chaos and sought to change it, even uttering the same words to 
stop her and complete their understanding of her. She is the figure of 
a conquered tribe and her departure brings first guilt and then relief 
to Da Silva. Only her black coat remains behind as a symbol of her 
existence and her role in his growing awareness as an artist and 
visionary. Manya, like Cuffey, also represents the image of "conquered 
man" \iith whom Da Silva must cone to terms in order to reconcile with 



149 



that f-lement in himself. Only by removing the outer, social, layers of 
personality can he cut through social convention, remove the garments of 
iiistory and locate the universal man within. 

Da Silva's insufficient response to Manya is indicative of his own 
inability to recognize and integrate the elements of his heritage and of 
his psyche. In relation to Kate his response is more effective. Unlike 
the primitive Manya, Kate represents sophisticated, cosmopolitan 
womanhood. A businesswoman, she has stifled her emotional side and 
allowed her intellectual side to rule. She has placed protective 
barriers in front of her natural self and, as it were, prepares a face 
to meet the faces that she meets. For this reason, in conversation with 
her. Da Silva figuratively uses his artist's knife to cut through the 
layers of paint, accumulated layers of personal history. In so doing, 
he reveals the scars beneath, in particular the scar of the abortion 
Kate had had some years before. Guilt-ridden on account of the abortion, 
she has revealed it on a television program. Now, in an attempt to 
relieve her guilt, she seeks to take the child Paul away from Manya who, 
she believes, is neglecting him. Manya fights visciously, against Kate, 
seeking to retain and protect her son. Despite the solicitude of both 
women, Paul remains the neglected child of humanity. He is the first 
symbol of hope and rebirth for man, but begins as a negative one. 
Described as "having unkempt hair, thin shoulders, beautiful dark eyes," 
he stands with "his back to a ruined slab of meat, a public bath, a 
morsel of survival in his own blind right baptized by the sun" (p. 19). 

The sense of decay which pervaded Manya' s flat is personified in 
Paul. The otherwise hopeful imagery of water in the novel appears in 
relation to Paul in the form of a decaying and deteriorating public 



150 
bath. He is also tied to a theme of historical exploration as he v;ears 
a pullover vrith "flAGELLAK" stitched on it. The name ties together both 
the New World explorer and Da Silva Magellan, an explorer in an even 
newer sense, an explorer of the mind. The shirt was purchased from a 
club called the Auction Block, v/here Cuffey worked, where Manya met 
Paul's father, and where "victims" may still be found. Harris uses such 
names to tie together New and Old World themes: modern auction block for 
society's victims like Manya and Cuffey or tiew World victims sold into 
actual slavery; conquered individuals lost in a technological world, or 
conquered tribes overcome by stronger powers, all are victims and suffer 
eclipsed potentials. 

Wlien Da Silva first sees him, Paul is standing still but staggers 
forX'Tard "in the canvas" crying "Bad cat. Wicked cat," as Da Silva 
releases a bird caught by a cat near Manya' s house. Manya, in contrast, 
makes no distinction between the sparrow and the cat, between victim and 
victor, sympathizing with the sparrow but catching the cat to her breast 
as "if it were a lover, as if Da Silva were making love to her in paint 
through creatures that both blocked and reopened a territory of inter- 
course between species and species" (p. 16). Even as a young boy, then, 
Paul offers the strongest form of judgement in the novel. Though Paul 
is first presented in fairly negative images. Da Silva sees him as a 
hope for the future and as a "challenging conception" in the "Pool of 
the Madonna," as the first section of the book is named. Yet, Manya 's 
failure to distinguish between victor and victim is not in itself 
negative. It is part of her natural spontaneity and, as Ivan Van 
Sertima has argued, serves to open channels of communication. Unlike 



151 

the sophisticated Kate, Manya does not suffer from "bloodclots of 

. . „5 
vision. 

Just as Da Silva fails to be able to fully perceive Manya' s nature 
and needs, so too, despite his ability to see beneath Kate's layered 
defences, he is unable to completely perceive Kate's nature. As artist, 
he must come to terns with both Manya and Kate, two facets of the muse 
figure in the novel, before he is able to move forward with his own 
"child" of consciousness and awareness, as represented by the foetus Jen 
is carrying at the end of the novel. 

Harris measures Da Silva' s progress in terms of the imagery of 
clothes, reminding us again of Carlyle's "clothes philosophy." Through- 
out the novel clothes have carried negative connotations. Though Harris 
seldom lists particulars of dress. Da Silva reacts strongly each time 
clothes are described. Whether it is Manya' s unkempt flat with clothes 
strewn about, Jen's dark and heavy winter coat and thick gloves, or the 
immaculate coat and skirt Jen wears the morning after their honeymoon, 
which make Da Silva almost hate her, garments represent a negative 
element in Da Silva' s life and paintings. Early in the novel. Da 
Silva 's inadequate response to Manya 's plea for help in the matter of 
keeping her child is symbolized in a clothing metaphor. As he passively 
watches, tianya tosses her black coat behind her. The coat is a sign of 
her status as an artist's model, a symbol, perhaps, of her "creativity," 
and her discarding of it may be read as her relinquishing of both her 
social and her maternal roles. Da Silva sees the "soiled coat of the 
madonna," in the "dry cleaner of the sky" (p. 39), which may suggest 
that the discarding of the coat is not total but temporary, and that it 
will be returned in a renovated state. In fact, at the very end of the 



152 

novel, a coat does reappear xrtien Da Silva meets bis wife, Jen, at the 

underground station. She is wearing a heavy coat, and she tells hiu she 

is pregnant. Now, for the first time in the novel, clothes, though 

heavy and bulky, are no longer viewed as a barrier between people, or an 

impediment in the way of communication. 

And then he caught her to him v/ith the joy by which he had been 
first consumed; he felt her gloves against the back of his head; he 
felt the handle of the shopping bag against his fingers as his arms 
encircled her fleecy coat; he felt his masked feet touch her masked 
feet. 

He was almost tempted to laugh or cry at the paraphernalia of 
winter costume, thick gloves, furred coat, high suede boots, until 
his lips touched hers with a naked instantaneous delight. 

He encircled the globe then, a global light whose circulation 
lay through and beyond fear into unfathomable security. (p. 77) 

Da Silva' s dislike of clothing (the "garments of history") is here 

overcome, but we are not allowed to forget that Da Silva 's perceptions 

are not yet perfect. Clothing's opposite, nakedness, is also a metaphor 

in the novel, however, which works to point to Da Silva' s inadequacies, 

but also to measure his growth of perception and power of communication. 

During the early discussion with Kate about the possibility of her 

removing Paul from his mother's custody, he "shrank a little at first 

from Kate's naked practicality which was unlike Manya's essential 

nakedness" (p. 21). He is fascinated by Kate and seeks to probe into 

her layers of protective covering in order to understand her, to get to 

the source of a "curious scar" he senses she bears. Using a knife on 

the canvas of her psyche, "a surgeon's scalpel," he probes and discovers 

that underneath the "transparent dress of madonna of Tao Playschool, 

there is a curious new rib that had been refined into place with a force 

that revived or deepened perspectives of guilt and freedom in the 

present and the future" (p. 21). He sees Kate as a "mutation of 

primordial voyages into the self and across seas beyond tyranny of the 



153 

self through which to begin to define (redefine) again and again limits 

to paradise" (p. 21). 

As Da Silva becomeb increasingly aware of the feelings of Manya, 

Kate, and Jen, he is able increasingly to think in terms of another and 

to realize that though he was unaware of it he had all along been 

dependent on others both individually and socially. Ironically, Da 

Silva renarks in the beginning of the novel on the way in which he took 

so many things for granted. It is not until the conclusion of the novel 

that the full impact of those assumptions strikes him. He laughs at the 

mutation of legend, then stops laughing as he realizes that the mutation 

was: 

affecting a closed order of things that he had long taken for 
granted as uniform solid until he began to glimpse a renewal of 
premises of subtle spirit, subtle truth, arising paradoxically, 
ironically, from diminished expectations of material glory. That 
was the mutation, both of the arousal of suppressed cultures, 
suppressed tones of feeling within the implacable historical 
conventions as though to unravel them in some degree and to 
announce a nev7 sensuous inner body, a new responsible freedom — by 
the same token — within the sacrifices of paint. (pp. 9-10) 

He was taking far too much for granted: his relationship to Jen, 
his understanding of Jen, Kate and Manya, and his historical role as 
individual and as artist. Just as he becomes the child that Sir Giles 
and his wife could not have and shared a parental interest with Kate and 
Manya in Paul, so his future and the future of society are tied up in 
the pregnancy which he and Jen have created; both literally and figura- 
tively it is an artistic awakening. Da Silva and Jen are both of 
mixed New World and Old World ancestry; they produce a child who will 
combine these elements, provide a link between past and future, harness 
potentialities rather than eclipse potentialities, and give meanirig to 
the paradox of a "cultivated wilderness." The title of the novel then 



154 

takes on triple significance. The double Da Silva name inplies a Eian 

doubly emerging from the forest — first, as a man becoming civilized and 

second, as a man gaining a vision, both artistic and social, and 

reestablishing contact with his inner self. These tv;o achievements are 

amplified by a third repetition of the idea of Da Silva cultivating his 

wilderness by making both the land and his imagination useful. 

'Of course,' he said, it's all there. In one of my canvases. I 
see it now. Womb of a painting. Foetus. I distinctly recall the 
beginnings of a subtle enlargement . . . Let's go heme, Jen.' 
(p. 77) 

Notes 

Wilson Harris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 

Wilson Harris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 

Fleming Brahms. "A Reading of Wilson Harris' Palace of the 
Peacock ," Commonwealth Newsletter , No. 3, (January 1973), p. 35. 

^ Hena Maes-Jelinek. "The Writer as Alchemist, the Unifying Role 
of Imagination in the Novels of Wilson Harris," Language and Literature , 
1, No. 1, p. 31. 



CHAPTER 7 



GENESIS OF THE CLO'A'S (1977) 

Many of the themes which appear as early as Palace of the Peacock 
(1960) continue through the body of Harris' work and reappear with 
ramifications, extensions, or refinements in Genesis of the Clowns : the 
interrelationships of men of different races and geographic areas; the 
stifling of individual potential when a single world view is allowed to 
rule; the need for a "Copernican revolution of sentiment" which would 
allow all men to attain true freedom and reach their full potential; and 
the "scars" which all m.en bear as a result of psychic errors and 
suppression by others. Characters and time are exploded, imploded, 
telescoped or overlapped, as men realize the nature of their relation- 
ships to others, dead or alive, even to those not yet born. In seeking 
the means for a true communication among these characters Harris also 
seeks the means by which his readers can achieve a valid dialogue with 
their fellow men. 

The obvious plot of Genesis is simple enough: Frank VJellington has 
lived in London for thirty years, but between 1942 and 1948 he led 
expeditions into the interior of Guyana to survey the land and chart the 
rivers. In 1974 he receives a letter from an anonymous source telling 
him of the suicide of Hope, a member and foreman of those early expedi- 
tions. The actual time span of the novel is the few minutes needed to 



155 



156 

read a brief letter. In another sense, however, the action covers the 
period from 1942 to 1974, which includes the years of the expedition, 
the yf;ar of Hope's suicide, and the years during which Wellington 
unconsciously struggled with issues he begins to resolve only after the 
letter arrives. As with Harris's ether novels, the simple plot outline 
is deceptive and provides only the bare framework for the probing 
questions brought to the fore by the reminder of Wellington's past. In 
an attempt to resolve these questions, Wellington resurrects the "clo\'ms' 
in his own buried past and, seeing them in new light, is better able to 
understand the roles they created in a "shadowplay of a genesis of 
suns," (p. 86) the dark comedy in which he and his crew were involved. 

From book to book, as we have seen, Harris's protagonists have 
increasingly taken the role and character of artists or creators. Both 
Da Silva of Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness and Frank 
Wellington of Genesis are artists and writers who attempt, even if 
unconsciously, to advance by way of their artistic expressions to a 
greater understanding of their relationships to others. Da Silva tends 
to see things in a historic perspective, while Wellington views the 
world in economic terns. In both cases exploited men are reduced to a 
primordial state, deprived of identity, and represented finally by the 
Nameless Fool or Clown, the rejected slave or god, who is spiritually 
free because he is not a part of any fixed order whether historic or 
economic. In Genesis , as Wellington reads the anonymous letter, he 
remembers the companions of his earlier expeditions, or, rather, they 
"appear" to him, one by one, in his mind. In fact, he sees them coming 
to his paytable, as if he were still the leader of an expedition. His 
original views of them merge with new and better perceptions so that. 



157 

through a proctitis of retrospective correction and revision, Wellington 

moves to an improved conception of humanity with implications of hope 

for the future. As Harris explains in an interviev/: 

We have to begin to conceive of something which I would tend to 
describe as comedy of psyche and by that I mean that V'/hen one 
begins to look at character, one is drawn to a much deeper ground 
of experience, which would lie in certain kinds of myth perhaps, 
which would lie in the sensation one has that because images are 
partial, they have roots which one ceaselessly explores in order to 
find connections with other partial images that cannot be taken for 
granted. ■'■ 

VJellington becomes increasingly aware of the partial nature of 
images as he participates in a "comedy of the psyche": as his former 
crew members come one by one to his "paytable of the ages," they collect 
not only the wages due to them for their work in the 1940 's but also the 
wages due for what Wellington now sees as underpaid psychic efforts, 
stretching in some cases right up to the present time. In this process 
Wellington gradually progresses from his initial role as colonizer, who 
sees his employees as mere "furniture" (p. 82), to a role as a member of 
the human community, related by dreams, goals, needs and desires to all 
the other men of his crew. As his vision clears he moves from being a 
"head among the clouds," away, that is, from narrow self-interest, 
toward becoming a head among the "clowns" himself. Though he could 
never, in Harris's philosophy, attain perfection, his move here is a 
strong aiid positive one. 

Born of white "creole" parents, Wellington is educated and a 
scientist; so he seems more able to control his environment with tools 
of his trade than those, like the Amerindian Reddy, who perceive the 
world as a plaything of sometimes capricous gods. Wellington's various 
"tools" (theodolite, dumpy level, and his scientific education as whole) 
allow him to measure currents in the river, in the men, and even in his 



158 
own mind. This knowledge also allows him to see cultural differences in 
the men, which accounc for the variations in their behaviors and values. 
He perceives the "different suns around which their cultures revolve" as 
the men invest their "capital" in both monetary and existential senses. 
V;ellington struggles to understand these men and his own reactions to 
them: 

The light itself counselled itself, addressed itself to me, sold 
itself to me as I chipped away at my own condition of 'uncanny 
absurd climax' in the encounter between alien cultures. 

I felt I was looking deep into a massive and formidable 
hesitation of forces in myself and in my age, and that there 
glimmered far down, far beneath in the bed of the river figures in 
a mysterious landscape, figures that embraced each other save that 
the very function of their embrace possessed a value other than 
itself which had so turned in on itself it may have involuntarily 
safe-guarded itself or, on the other hand, eclipsed itself all 
together, (p. 124) 

Even though Wellington recognizes these encounters between cultures he 
cannot fully realize, even in 1974, that these conflicts are resulting 
in the stronger cultures taking advantage of the weaker ones, overcoming 
and "eclipsing" them. 

Wellington himself has been subject to an eclipsed potential as a 
scientist; too caught up in specific measures and graphs, he has been 
unable to see beyond surface appearances. During the process of his 
enlightenment, he begins to see associations previously hidden, associa- 
tions between himself and his men, as well as associations between the 
members of his crew. In 1974, while he exam-ines the pay sheets, he 
drinks from a goblet, which becomes simultaneously a physical shape out 
of which he gains life-sustaining fluids and the symbolic goblet 
portrayed on the stamp of the Guyanese letter which told him of Hope's 
death: 



159 

The stamp on the letter froni Guyana carried a winged goblet 
attached to strings of light within a dark river from which the 
ghosts of landscapes drink. (p. 81) 

On. the same day he receives the letter from Guyana he receives 
another letter from a Scottish solicitor whose address is Hope Street, 
Dumfernline, Fife, telling him of a small inheritance from a relative. 
That letter, too, has a stamp, displaying "the horns of ancient Scottish 
vessels from which the ghosts of kings drink" (p. 81). The goblet, 
then, becomes a complex symbol, both an actual object possessed by 
Wellington and an artistic representation (on a stamp); it also repre- 
sents both Guyanese and European elements. As such, the goblet becomes 
a catalyst in V.'ellington' s clearing vision; it allows him to see both 
European and Guyanese elements. Wellington is able to see ghosts of 
landscapes and kings. The ghosts become real to him as he addresses 
each in turn, noting am.ong his men the contributions made by Cummings 
Day, Moseley Adams, Evan Hope, Karti Persaud Frederick, and Reddy. 
Using "genesis cheques" to begin to repay psychic debts across the 
pay table of the years, Wellington evaluates each man, including himself, 
and in some cases adds to the payment of appreciation for work or 
courage. 

At this time he is able to realize that his previous involvement in 
his work had blinded him to other things of great value. Science had 
been an escape for him, a sort of "sleep." Not yet fully freed or 
awakened, he measures himself on the scale of social value and decides, 
perhaps a bit flatteringly, that "Frank Wellington, government surveyor, 
would fetch a good price, a god's price on a market stall of instruments 
for sale," (p. 96). The Carib bone flute appears here in a modified 
form as the "old bone of a theodolite" which Wellington admires and 



160 

thinks must contain some old f.urveyor's ghost (p. 96). The theodolite 

is tied, too, to the shaman/trickster figures: 

I turned away from the old shell of a theodolite on an antique 
stall with its miscellareous assortment of articles. Cupids stood 
hand in hand with anancy figures inscribed on a battered clock. 
The theodolite had intrigued me. It possessed an old-fashioned 
telescope within which the markings on the diaphragm used to be 
made with spider's web. (p. 96) 

Not only does i\nancy the Spider appear here but so, too, does the 
trickster god since, as I have shown in Chapter 4, Anancy the Spider and 
the trickster god are interchangeable concepts. If Wellington were to 
use this theodolite he would be looking through the "womb" shape of the 
theodolite and through spider's web threads to measure his world. The 
measurement would thus allow him to combine elements of the trickster 
and shaman and scarecrow figures to see through or beyond surface 
appearances. Wellington begins to do this as he first questions and 
then seeks answers at the pay table of the ages: "What about the imagina- 
tive cultivation of certain truths as far as we can discern them in the 
river of time that changes its bed, that meanders. . .?" (p. 99). 
Wellington nov? recognizes a need to sec with an eye other than the 
surface eye, to use his inner or magically scarred eye to see truths 
which are initially hidden from view but essential to his own well-being 
and the unity of mankind. 

Wellington, whose feet are "riveted" in both Guyana and Europe, 
evolves from mere colonizer to "father statistic" for Reddy and Hope. 
Initially seeing the men only as so much "furniture" (p. 82), useful but 
interchangeable and impersonal objects, he becomes increasingly aware of 
them as individuals with distinct qualities and needs, and by 1974 is 
able to pay them their due. The men look up to him as the expedition 
leader whose power is respected as employer, enforcer of policy, and 



161 
source of their pay. He has power enough to take v;hat he wants with 
impunity. He even takes advantage of possibilities to sleep with 
Lucille (both Chung's wife iuid Hope's god-sister) and Reddy's (unnamed) 
sister, unconsciously knowing his superior povzer will protect him. By 
taking advantage of these "weaker" people, he thus continues the 
practices of colonizers which began with the middle passage and 
continued even into this century. As a "father statistic" he also 
becomes involved in incest, a practice which arose as a result of the 
early imbalance of the sexes in Guyana. What had begun with slavery and 

indentured servants, however, continued as a "tyranny of affections. . . 

2 
built into the folk," a practice that will take a long tine to change?" 

In his earlier arrogance he was also aware that local habits of thought 

would permit him to take Lucille or Ada since they, like all women, 

"belong to everybody" (p. 97). In the 1960's VJellingtcn was so powerful 

that, even without realizing it, he caused those less powerful than he 

to redirect their anger away from him and to take out their frustration 

in other directions. In Hope's case this frustration is turned against 

himself and results in his suicide. 

Based on an actual member of Harris's expeditions into the interior 

of Guyana in the 1940' s, Hope is simultaneously a real person and the 

3 

metaphorical representation of eclipsed men. Hope is the key to the 

puzzle of the novel (it is not an accident of course, that the Scottish 
solicitor should live on Hope Street). By filtering Hope's story 
through the psyche of Frank Wellington both Wellington and the reader 
learn far more than would be possible if the story came solely from 
Hope. Watching Hope struggle to understand the events of his life and 
free himself from tyrannical constraints, Wellington and the reader can 



162 

begii-L to see the suffocating effects of static conditions. Hena 

Maes-Jelinek puts it as follows: 

Cn the very brink of death Hope nay have seen another 'head strong 
anong the Clowns' and turned toward the 'gift of life without 
strings' (p. 148) which is the token of true freedom. Hope's 
aggression towards the other is now turned against himself, so 
that, as both assailant and victim, he has encountered as his own 
the fate he has imposed on the other and by doing so has 
obliterated the tyrant in himself. In dispossessing himself he 
returns to namelessness and thus becomes once more an object of 
compassion, the only real source of hope in Harris's novels.'^ 

Hope is Wellington's foreman and witness of the pay sheet by which 

the men of the expedition are paid: in money, in history, and in fate, 

as Wellington comes to learn. On a surface level Hope is a somewhat 

absurd child of the folk, not only a naive "son of woman," which in this 

case implies a somewhat derogatory attitude, but also a product of the 

conflict between cultural groups. The awkward combination of all these 

elements produces a conflict in him which leads to his desire to become 

a capitalist, an authoritarian/totalitarian figure. Hope sees 

capitalism as a m.eans to control an environment in which he feels 

victimized both because he lacks the "tools" of a Wellington and the 

asceticism of a Marti Frederick, the local East Indian entrepreneur. It 

is ironic that his own appetites lead him to become the victim of the 

appetites of others, for it is his greed and sensual appetites which 

make him susceptible to victimization by Frederick who controls most of 

the business enterprises in the area. Harris creates a double irony by 

having Frederick become a businessman in order to get revenge in 

monetary terms against the one he feels is responsible for the death of 

his father. It was Corporal Hope of the police force who for no 

apparent reason killed Frederick's father. Now, by controlling the 

financial elements of the people, Frederick is able to get revenge for 



163 

his father's death by s3-ov7ly strangling the financial assets of others 
like Hope. The irony here relates to the duplication of names. Corporal 
Hope is not, in fact, related to the Hope of the expedition yet he is 
victimized by the vengeful Frederick, who punishes all men for the error 
of one. Harris's point is that only when men become aware of such 
polarizations can they escape from these repetitive and destructive 
patterns. 

Harris sees capitalism as a "death mask of an age." With the 
capitalist accumulation of goods men like Hope lose their individual 
identities and make "radical bargains with life" in order to counter the 
successes of others like Frederick. These bargains become monstrous 
when they lead men to become preoccupied and moody, losing track of 
their relationships to other men in their quest for increased property; 
the bargains bring men to the brink of death, whether physical or 
emotional. Becoming hopelessly entangled in these bargains with life, 
Hope moves closer to a totalitarian position, itself a form of death in 
Harris's terms, and simultaneously closer to the possibility of his own 

suicide. 

Though he begins as an inferior Black Marsden figure, bringing both 
life and messages to Wellington, Hope continues to be trapped by his 
philosophy and historical patterns. At the same time he makes 
Wellington aware of the potential for a real gift, the gift of oneself 
and life freely and openly given to Wellington by Lucille and Reddy's 
sister. Hope himself is unable to update his historical perspective, to 
see women at other than a premium and so is trapped in the position of a 
victim by his own faulty vision. 



164 

hope's increasing jealousy of Frederick and his raove toward a 

totalitarian position lead Wellington to see Hope as a "dead man" even 

as early as Christmas 1946, nearly thirty years before his actual 

suicide. 

1 was not sure I had heard distinctly all that he said but I was 
listening intently now as if I were involved in a rapid-fire 
translation of the coded message on a dead man's lips. As if we 
addressed each other around the globe and across the years like 
satellites of mother-earth, (p. 140) 

Hope is a man "chained to his deeds"; he "buys and sells chains" of his 

own and of others. These psychic chains eventually cause him to lose 

the control he had fought so hard to gain. 

Unable to marry and have children of his own, Hope becomes a father 

figure for Lucille but, finding his "daughter statistic" in bed with a 

man one night, he shoots first the lover, a black man ironically named 

Frank Wellington, and then himself. The anonymous writer who tells of 

Hope's death questions whether Hope would have shot Frank V/ellington, 

the white creole employer, if he had been found with Lucille. He 

rhetorically asks Wellington if Hope would have stayed his hand or 

murdered his "father statistic." Harris implies that Hope might in fact 

have fired anyway, since the man who was shot was named Frank Wellington 

though he was black and bald, quite the opposite of Hope's former 

employer. The anonymous writer questions: 

What combination of blind circumstances was this as if a light 
falls and still drips from my pen into a complicated bargain of 
names signifying the dress, the address of centuries within which 
lies an unglimpsed recognition of how vulnerable one is, how 
essentially there one is everywhere at the classical paytable of 
love and fear. 

Perhaps you were there in the shadows of that last paytable 
midnight and he did not fire. Then history may possess an 
unwritten anecdote, an eclipsed but naked spiritual fact, (p. 146) 



165 

Wellington has been subconsciously pondering the interconnections 
of people and fates which are incorporated into the history of a place. 
Now, through the catalytic action of the anonymous letter writer, 
V,'sllington is finally able to consciously accept his own ties to others 
across the "paytable of the years," to conceive of history a.s anecdote, 
not merely facts, as something solid only in the minds of those unable 
to free themselves from static gestalt. 

It was a radical bargain of emotion Hope sought to affect with 
life and death. . . And here I have been perusing your own theories 
on what you call a 'rigged state of emotion.' 

It is clear now he was blind to the irony of 'blood-relations'. 
As I mentioned a short while ago you were his 'white' Guianese 
Father-Statistic, Mistress Ada his 'black' Guianese Mother- 
Statistic. 

So beyond a shadow of doubt a frame of mind possessed him, a 
'right' to bind others, to bind numbers into his 'rigged 
co-operative family' through antecedent master and antecedent 
slave. 

Once those antecedent emotions became identical forces wholly 
aligned to each other (rather than detached from each other as 
comedy of opposite investitures to unravel states of deception) the 
seed of totalitarian spirit was born. (p. 147) 

Chained to his own radical bargain with life and a rigged state of 

emotion, the only recourse open to Hope is self-destruction, though the 

actual event occurs long after Wellington perceives its seed in Hope. 

Though VJellington is unaware of it, there is an element of synchronicity 

here. Events which had at first seemed unrelated become increasingly 

clear as Wellington ponders them and tries to put them into some 

coherent order. 

Wellington sees the seeds of understanding in his own doodles in 

the margins of his pay book. He begins to be "plagued by an interior 

sun" which casts light on his sketches and makes him feel "riveted into 

a breathless tapestry of revolving continents, landscapes and rivers 



166 

once possessed" (p. 86). Wellington recembers his earlier doodles and 

notes that: 

My busy hand paused, intervened with contrary daiLcirig sketches in 
the margins of the field book. Involuntary sketches they were 
perhaps like extensive crew of freedom and fate beached on the 
stilled page of the globe, in the stilled eye of the globe. . . 

and much later he begins to see connections and significance in the 

sketches: 

I cannot even now after all these years brush them aside as 
fantasies, evasions or statistical doodles. They related to 
economic codes, were as pertinent or impertinent as sheer technical 
fact often is. And the more thorough, the more specific and 
comprehensive my scientific work became, they — on the other 
hand — seemed all the more to stand in the light of buried sun that 
possessed a spatial reason deeper than all apparent unreason. As 
though they were the shadowplay of a genesis of suns — the 
shadowplay of interior suns around which I now turned whereas 
before they had turned around me in processional sentiment, (p. 86) 

Looking at his doodles Wellington realizes increasingly his own 
connections with his workers as well as their connections to each other. 
Only by setting aside his scientific way of seeing the world is he able 
to see v/ith the scarecrow or double eye to the antecedents of all men, 
and, in fact, to see beyond the very narrow confines of self-interest. 

In strong contrast to Wellington's initial strength and self- 
interest is Reddy, the Amerindian member of the expedition, who is least 
adequately compensated for his efforts, Reddy' s role as a primitive 
man, who still perceives the world in mystical ways, is important for in 
the opposition between Reddy and Wellington one find again the opposition 
between primitive and technological man that has occupied Karris through- 
out his fiction from The Palace of the Peacock onwards. Reddy 's anteced- 
ents were "clowns of light," and walked in the "shadow of the gods who 
once ruled the Guiana highlands." At the end of one survey upriver 
Reddy asked to accompany Wellington to the coast, only a day's journey 



167 

by land but constituting "a great divide for him he had never crossed 

before. He had feared it too much" (p, 113). It took Wellington the 

longest to calculate Reddy's pay, to make it appropriate to the great 

fears and curiosities he had suffered. According to P.eddy's gods, water 

flowed down from the pole of the sun to the mountains and illumined the 

land. Light was guaranteed only so long as that process continued. 

This belief explains his terror when, during his journey with VJellington 

to the coast , he sees the river current apparently flowing the wrong way 

(upstream). He begins to see Wellington as a father figure. Only later 

is Wellington aware of Reddy's change of attitude and the courage he 

silently exhibited. 

My first error of misconception in sorting out Reddy's cash in 
1942 and 1948 was to devalue the currencies of light builr. into his 
fears. His was a heroism I failed to understand, a submission to 
terrors which money alone could never assuage. Perhaps at this 
late stage in time I may be able — I say it again — (but who knows?) 
to assess all that it meant to him to become a member of a crew 
which seemed to him the embodiment of motivations that shook the 
very ground under his feet. (p. 114) 

Wellington completely misunderstands the way Reddy views the tides 

and even the ground on which he walks. Indeed, the very notion of 

"tides" was alien to his philosophy and gods. 

He saw his rivers descending from the pole of the sun, a function 
of the sun, the extensive seed of the sun planted in mother earth. 
He saw how I appeared to possess that pole in my instruments [the 
surveyor's pole] and, therefore, alien as I was to him in my 
assessment of the waters as tides (a non-tidal flow and tidal flow 
'mathematically' bound together) he had no alternative but to see 
in me the masked god of light from olden times returning to address 
him now, in almost unimaginable terms, across the paytable. (p. 
114) 

For Wellington these things are a technical "banality" while for Reddy 

they possess unimaginable terror; only because he sees V7ellington as a 

"father" figure is Reddy able to control his terror and continue 

working. V.'ellington questions what pay is possible to compensate him 



168 
for his terror, the loss of his gods, and even the loss of his belief in 
his family. Surely, if the waters can go against the gods and they are 
natural forces, then man himself can be easily corrupted. This explains 
why Reddy believes that his sister has been corrupted, as indeed she 
has, by sleeping with Wellington. Feeling helpless, he turns to the 
only power available to him, the gun with whicli he approaches Wellington 
though he does not shoot him. Wellington, on the other hand, recognizes 
Reddy 's great innocence and feels a responsibility to him and his 
family. However, this sense of responsibility is not adequate either to 
compensate Reddy for his terror or to prevent Wellington from taking 
advantage of Reddy' s sister when he sleeps with her. 

Looking back, V/ellington sees the "terrifying otherness" (p. 126) 
of his men as they faced the terrors of the strange world to which he 
took them. Increasingly able to comprehend their terror, Wellington 
progresses from being a "head among the clouds," trapped by his owti 
unclear vision, to being a "head among the clowns," one who is freed by 
being able to see with the scarecrow eye the habits which eclipse m.an's 
potentials (p. 110). He is, by novel's end, able to transform the new 
world/old world confrontation into a relationship of reciprocity. He 
can finally pay Reddy in "currencies of light" (p. 112), the only wages 
that can atone for the lost light of his ancestors and gods. 

The void that Wellington feels was created by the conquest of 
tribes begins to disappear v/hen he realizes that these cultures have not 
been totally obliterated but have "gone underground" and are still 
alive. As Harris stated in an interview: "Their reappearance seems to 
me essential if one is genuinely to come into some ground of authority, 
which would make freedom a reality." By combining feeling and 



169 
imagination, his memories and his doodles, V/ellington begins to see with 
the scarecrow eye and raake possible the unity of neglected inner selves 
which had been previously hidden behind the facade of a sophisticated 
European colonizer. This ties into Harris's philosophy that within men 
are hidden facets which must be brought to light, apparent contraries 
which must be reconciled in order to bring forth an already existing 
reality and unity of mankind. 

We are perhaps now in a position to understand the ceaning of the 
title. Only when Wellington begins to function as a clown himself is he 
able to give full restitution for his earlier participation in systems 
of oppression. "Clown" is related to such other terms as fool and idiot 
in Harris's fiction, and is as close as Harris comes to a concept of 
god. But if the novel, like all of Harris's novels, resists in some 
respects translation into easy didactic meanings, it is in certain ways 
very accessible. Wellington's relationship, for example, to the two 
major figures in the novel rests on the foundation of a pun: only when 
Wellington is "reddy" will there be "hope" in life rather than in death, 
a true genesis of the clowns. 

The imaginative writer, Harris feels, must deal with diverse 
cultures and alter the institutions which eclipse man's potentials to 
allow for the greatest possible freedom for nan. Whether political, 
economic, or psychological, when any one institution is allowed to 
become sovereign ochers are eclipsed. Only by "confessing their 
biases," (admitting to static gestalt) can the partial nature of those 
institutions be made apparent and allow for an opportunity for a 
dialogue between areas of experience or cultures which may at first 



170 

appear to be inconpatible. This is the over-riding thenie of Harris's 
early novels and has continued through Ge nesis of the Clowns . 



Notes 

John Thienie, "The legacy of Conquest — an Interview with Wilson 
Harris," Caribbean Contact , 7, No. 11 (March 19S0) , 17. 

2 

Wilson Harris, "The Eye of the Scarecrow." 

3 

Information based on a personal conununication frora Wilson Harris. 

4 

Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Inimitable Painting: New Developments in 

Wilson Harris's Latest Fiction," Ariel , 8, No. 3 (July 1977), pp. 78-79. 
5 



John Thieme, "The Legacy of Conquest," p. 17. 



CHAPTER 8 



THE TREE OF THE SUN (1978) 

Da Silva da Silva is, for the third tims in Harris's work, the 
protagonist; once again Harris seeks through the description of the 
artist's vision a degree of understanding that will allow men to move 
beyond their narrow confines of history, geography, race or culture to a 
more complete realization of their potential, to a freedom from suppres- 
sion. Once again characters are not stable, consistent entities, but 
merge into one another in often bewildering ways; time, too, is 
collapsed, telescoped, reversed. But despite the novel's complexity, 
the overall theme is evident: the need for a liberation from conscripting 
visions and static gestalts of various kinds. 

The plot is, as usual, simple. The Tree of the Sun begins at the 
point where Da Silva da Silva' s Cultivated Wilderness leaves off, at the 
point where Da Silva and his wife, Jen, learn after eight years of 
marriage they they are to become parents. This new beginning, as I 
argued in Chapter 6, is the harbinger of a new beginning for all men. 
Throughout Tree of the Sun , Da Silva' s vision is progressively enlarged, 
as he learns to see previously hidden connections. His attempts are 
aided by the opportunities he is given of "seeing" through the eyes of 
Francis and Julia Cortez, the earlier tenants of his home. Julia's 
letters and Francis's journal describe situations and characters they 



171 



172 
either knew or created and give Da Silva the insight to see himself and 
his social and historical heritages in a new perspective. 

One day after he and Jen make love, Da Silva feels compelled to go 
into his studio and paint. He entitles the work "The Tree of the Sun" 
but after his initial strong impulse abates he rolls up the canvas and 
forgets about it until two months later when Jen announces her pregnancy. 
Suddenly he sees connections between his feelings after making love and 
the announcement of the pending birth. Previously hidden from hin, the 
feelings "root" him to Jen and his home. They also tie him to his 
native Brazil, his adopted England, create a twin heritage of new world 
and old world cultures, and allow him to see that he, like Julia and 
Francis, is related to many others in scm.etimes strange and mysterious 

ways. 

Even before he encounters their manuscripts. Da Silva has uncon- 
sciously painted into his Brazilian nural a whole series of characters, 
actual, fictitious, historical and contemporary. These include the 
Aztec and Inca kings Montezuma and Atahualpa, an Inca princess, Spanish 
Conquistadores, as well as Julia and Francis, his wife Jen, all of whom 
trace their family lines back to Peruvian and Brazilian antecedents. By 
incorporating all of these into his painting Da Silva analyzes, inter- 
prets, and molds his own responses to the world. He even incorporates 
those people already dead who had intuitively known when alive that he 
would influence them and be influenced by them at some future tim.e. 
This is another example of the "roots" Harris believes exist for all of 
us, roots which may be unseen for years but suddenly and significantly 
appear. 



173 

Da Silva's understandirg grows as the painting does: 

'The very morning,' he repeated, 'two months ago, when our child 
was conceived. I knew it then . It was then I began this.' Ke 
tapped the canvas, stopped and thought in himself — 'I had a rooted 
feeling then. An ear in the heart of the ground. An eye in the 
middle of the wood. A hand uplifted. ... It x^^as early. I got 
up, came into the studio with the warmth of your body still upon 
me.' The studio was cold, a cave. Perhaps I dreamt it all, who 
knows? The tender assassin who creates the paradox of the globe. 
I began to paint the blow of creation before I could properly see 
it on my own brow as upon that of others, to paint an ice-age tree 
of love before I could properly feel it in my own crucifixions of 
lust as in the naked appetite of others, a foodbearing tree 
nevertheless, the execution of a seed of light, the miracle of 
branches of davrn, the complex blood of dawn that resembles a 
break — a pattern of relief — in a body of darkness.' (p. 4) 

Da Silva's ability to sense these connections between himself and 
these "others" allows hin to recognize the "tender assassin," the 
paradoxes of his world and the "blow of relief" which Harris seeks for 
himself and for all men. Only by recognizing the roles that others play 
in his own life can Da Silva, or any man, resolve apparent conflicts and 
move toward a positive and united world view. Da Silva begins to see 
the "chamad circles of the assassin," which must be disrupted in order 
for man to be freed from stasis and locked suppressive systems. Harris 
believes that artists are able to suggest the means by which m.an can 
free himself, for the artist's very creativity — if it is true 
creativity — implies a disruption of conventional approaches and accepted 
methods. Author and painter. Da Silva is doubly creative. 

As Da Silva studies his painting a "warm brush of feeling painted 
him alive," making him see connections to which he had previously been 
blind. As already stated, he has unconciously painted in the Aztec 
Montezuma, Francis and Julia Cortez , even his own wife Jen. It is as 
though Da Silva has characters flowing from his imagination through his 
fingers and brushes into existence on a living canvas of changing 



174 

reality. These characters speck to him and through hin, suggesting 
possible unions of apparent opposites. In a sense, then, the artist is 
the shaman figure expressing and being the nouthpiece of others' expres- 
sions at one and the same time. He talks to them and "was himself being 
taken over by them page by page as he began to sketch them; as he became 
immersed, sometimes apparently fleetingly, in expectations of painting 
them" (p. 11). Harris implies that Da Silva not only moves tov.'ard these 
others through the actual painting but through his relation to "the tree 
of the sun": "They were laughing and joking together, Francis and Julia, 
as he came upon them through the tree of the sun this painted morning" 
(p. 12). 

The tree motif appears not only in the painting but in the two 
carpets that Da Silva has in his bedroom and studio; studying their 
patterns, he is able to trace the branches that tie together his English 
home and a Ilexican sky, old world and new world people. Faces appear on 
the branches and seem at first to be wholly identical but later are seen 
to be individual yet related. 

Da Silva saw himself as another face in the carpet on which he 
stood, another face in the mural he painted, as if he had been 
parachuted there into that tree by nature's self, conjuring 
parachute of self, map of extremities, divisions, alliances between 
appearance and appearance, past and future, (p. 9) 

Initially seeing only in terms of his painting, Da Silva is able 

eventually to see in terms of verbal images too. He first realizes that 

the tree of the sun carpet symbolizes for himself and Jen "their joint 

root or tenancy or ownership of the house in which they lived and in 

which others had lived since the turn of the century and long before" 

(p. 9). VJlien, during repairs following a fire, he finds letters from 

Julia and a journal of Francis Cortez, Da Silva begins to tie together 



175 

feelings and ideas which had appeared earlier but which he was unable to 
understand. Through a combination of painting and writing. Da Silva 
comes to know Francis and Julia and to grasp their relationship not only 
to each other but to Jen and himself. Through Da Silva' s greater 
understanding Harris leads the perceptive reader to a greater under- 
standing as well. 

The reader's understanding is also enhanced as Harris plays back 
and forth through times and characters, thus uncovering unsuspected 
interrelationships. Through the telescoping of events and images Da 
Silva and Francis merge, overlap and separate. Da Silva, the artist and 
editor, both paints the other figures (Francis, Julia, Jen) into the 
"Tree of the Sun" mural and edits Francis's journal and Julia's letters. 
In the process of editing Da Silva brings Francis and Julia together in 
his imagination where they converse and clarify issues they were unable 
or unwilling to resolve in life. Though both Francis and Julia sensed 
when alive that Da Silva would recreate them after their deaths, it is 
only through the editing that they communicate fully, and as they learn 
to communicate Da Silva also learns and comes to a greater appreciation 
of himself, his wife, and his relationship to other people, both living 
and dead. More importantly, he gains an increased appreciation of the 
importance of his growing child. 

This reliving of another's life and experiences is an example of 
the way Karris uses the motif of the Carib bone flute which appears in a 
good number of his works, most obviously in Age of the Rainmakers and 
Sleepers of Roraima . Just as the Caribs used an enemy bone to fashion a 
flute and create music. Da Silva uses the "bones", the letters and 
journal, to create a new awareness. 



176 

A spirit of everyday craftsmanship, low-keyed sophistication, 
ascended there cut of a trench of previous buildings and Francis 
wondered again about the shaft in his limbs , about his manifesto or 
revolutions and lives. And it seer:ed, all at once, in being 
painted anew into existence, into resurrection, one comes alive to 
a humour of cosnos that distances one from oneself. . .in drawing 
one back to oneself the very geography of divided circumstance, on 
this bank or that of the reflectea cosmos, creates a stranger 
population in a self that seeks to return to itself as a new 
creation, (p. 20) [my italics] 

This shaft in Da Silva's limbs ties him to the bone flute and Francis. 

The composite character has a triple function: it is a human form of the 

bone flute; as a phallic form it is influential in Da Silva's "giving 

birth to" the writing which unites characters and times, and it "sings a 

tale with the song of the earth, song of a melancholy homecoming to a 

universal city he loved on both banks of father time," song of the 

living Da Silva and the "dead" Francis (p. 20). 

Francis, brought to life through Da Silva's thoughts, painting and 

editing, feels as though he has been hit, as though he has suffered 

"another assault by a painter's brush" like those kept beside Da Silva's 

palette. He continues, however, with an "inner sense of that shaft or 

song until he [comes] to the junction of Holland Park Avenue and Holland 

Road" where Da Silva lives. He notices buildings and remembers people 

and "yet he could see them as if they were there forever pooled in his 

own consciousness" (p. 21). Ke has become a sort of "ghost of the 

landscape" similar to Reddy in Genesis . Only once in the novel is the 

reader reminded that Da Silva is not omniscient, that he does not 

include in his newly expanded consciousness all the elements of the 

other characters. An incident is mentioned which is not fully described 

and Da Silva suffers a mild sense of panic because he is unable to 

conjure up the image to which Francis refers. He is reminded that, 

while improved, his vision is not yet perfect, and, while these other 



177 

characters exist in his miiidj they are not completely his creations, 

they have an essence of their own. 

Through their combined vision Francis and Da Silva are able to 

sense: 

varieties of profound malaise that conditioned them, even as it 

re-shaped them, to conceive a therapy of originality within the 

shell of time, its carpets or vralls or beams that cohered 

nevertheless into patterns of relief or doors through the tree of 
the sun. . . (p. 10) 

Francis and Julia, too, find relief, as they are resurrected and brought 
to fulfillment in Da Silva' s mind. While living, because of their 
inability to have a child, they had been at odds. Now, however, communi- 
cating with each other in and through Da Silva, they see in Da Silva and 
Jen's child the child they could not have. More than this the child 
implies a hope for the future of others, if man can only learn to see 
properly, to use a "therapy of originality." 

The miracle of Francis's and Julia's resurrection upon the tree of 
the sun, at this moment of time, when Da Silva learnt that his wife 
Jen was pregnant, hung upon a flash of consciousness, (p. 15) 

Harris so entwines characters that the flashes of intuition that 

influence one also influence the others; all have mixed antecedents, new 

and old world connections, and they increasingly become aware of these 

connections to the others. Francis digs his pen into the "page of 

masques of tradition on the other side of the grave (in the land of the 

living), on this side of the cradle (in the land of the unborn), until 

both positions became co-existent with day to day lives" of all times 

"since the earth began" (p. 30). Francis is driven "to write into 

existence" the son he was never able to have with Julia but which Jen 

and Da Silva conceive and believe to be related to Julia and Francis 

through the tree of the sun, the tree with branches of all mankind. 



178 
Further intermingling of times and characters results from the 
connections drawn between contemporary figures and their historic 
antecedents. Jen is related to an Inca princess, Julia to the Inca Sun 
King Atahualpa. Francis has a composite name which relates hiiu to the 
Spaniard Francisco Pizarro, who destroyed Atahualpa, and Hernando Cortez 
who killed Montezuma. Ke is also compared to Montezuma; the two share 
similarly lined faces, give signs of blows suffered and possess the 
passions of warrior and priest. Because Da Silva and Francis overlap 
there is additional significance given to Da Silva' s own roots, which 
reach back to Brazil and the Amerindians. Francis is the most complex 
of these interrelated characters in terms of his whole name, Francis 
Harlequin Rigby Cortez. The name not only combines the historic Pizarro 
and Cortes, but the images of the Harlequin figure who wears parti- 
colored tights much as Francis wears parti-colored cultural elements 
which stifle him. Francis has an imaginary son. Harlequin Rigby, by 
Eleanor Rigby the actress, and thus in the totality of his historical 
connotations combines old and new world figures over a period of four 
hundred years. It is typical of Harris to combine such diverse elements, 
to tie together images, characters and themes of the book in a single 
name. 

Although it is not apparent in his name, Francis is also related to 
both Atahualpa and Montezuma. Atahualpa and Montezum.a suffered from 
excesses of superstition and pride, and allowed their priests to foretell 
great successes. Foregoing appropriate defences because they believed 
themselves invincible, both kings were also the last sovereigns of their 
tribes. Their fates were shaped by the superstitions of their people 
who believed the invading Spaniards to be incarnations of returning gods 



179 
whose coming was told in local lore. Harris suggests that if, like 
Atahualpa and Montezuma, we allow ourselves to be ruled by static 
beliefs and rigid social structures we not only perpetuate those static 
forms but prevent others from appearing that could bring greater freedom 
for mankind. If either of the Indian kings had been able to see beyond 
the standard patterns of belief and behavior they might have been able 
to survive rather than meet ignominious deaths — Atahualpa by strangling 
after "accepting" Christianity and Montezuma by stoning, perhaps even at 
the hands of his own people. The divisions betv/een new world and old 
world peoples begun by conquering Spaniards and conquered Indians are 
maintained today in the cultures and suspicions of Mexicans and 
Peruvians, and are examples of the "charmed circles of the assassin" of 
which Harris wants men to become aware. 

True creativity, Harris believes, is the means by which man can 
move out of these charmed circles. If the move is deliberate the 
process may be more readily accomplished, but no less painful, as Da 
Silva learns. As an artist he "creates" in paint the characters that 
tie him to other men and his environment, and, through that paint sees 
further connections, connections which also allow him to move outside 
the "chatrmed circles." 

Before her death, Julia had written a series of letters ostensibly 
addressed to Francis but read only years later by Da Silva after they 
had been "resurrected" from the ashes of a fire in the apartment. As 
Julia and her thoughts are "recreated" by Da Silva her dreams and 
aspirations about communicating with Francis and having his child are 
also "resurrected" and appear in the form of the child Jen and Da Silva 
will have. Francis also writes himself into existence through Da 



180 

Silva's editing and both Francis and Julia see fron beyond the grave 

their links to Jen and Da Silva tlirough their "mutual" child. 

It may have been father tine's grief, it may have been father 
time's lust, that set in train a pattern of subconscious and 
unconscious pages on that memorable day of loss and pain he endured 
[when Julia died] . Until he was driven to write into existence — as 
fruit of his own body — a self-made/self-created son and 
self-made/self-created wife for that son. (p. 31) 

Francis has created a son, and a wife for that son, much as Da Silva 

"creates" Francis through his journals twenty-five years after his 

death. In each instance of creation the character is more fulfilled as 

a human being. This dialogue between creating and created forces is for 

Harris the key to greater human understanding: 

Clay [Eleanor] and gold [Jen] are premature spirits of awakening 
perhaps, da Silva thought, as he turned another page in Francis's 
book, premature pre-existent beginnings to creation, that summon up 
therefore a harsh spur or reminder of potentialities mixed into 
fields of indifference to life, callousness mixed into hope, war 
into peace, reluctant or unfulfilled lives into apparently lived or 
living or born lives. 

And thus he was drawn to Eleanor and Harlequin and distant 
Leonard as to his own children, his own half-created past and 
half-created future, peculiarly tragic, peculiarly hopeful, in its 
capacity to relate to strangers, to the gaiety and the madness in 
others who are utterly strange to oneself yet utterly true to 
oneself as to a dialogue between creator and created. . . (p. 31) 

Harris sees a fine line between the forces of creation and the 

forces of destniction. There is the " blow of shape in a woman's body," 

the "blow of Julia's illness like a locked door between them" (p. 15), 

the "blow [Montezuma] received from the hand of the conquistadores. . . 

the blow that was but a glancing blow" and his death ''from the blow he 

received" as he thought about the brute assassin, "threaded into 

paradoxical arrow of liberation or tenderness" (p. 1). These blows may 

create, as with love m.aking, or destroy by the same act done with force 

when a woman is raped; they may free men from the tyranny of a ruler, as 



181 
when Montezuma is killed, or they may destroy as when Atahualpa is 
killed by Spaniards greedy for gold. 

In an even tore complex use of iriagery, Harris exploits the 
allusive potentiality of the image of the tree which connotes not only 
food and shade but, in Christian mythology, the redemptive suffering of 
Christ. In the novel Da Silva's painting is call "The Tree of the Sun," 
and when Julia "speaks" in the painting, she speaks as follows: 

'One nurses each electric signal as if a trial run commences of the 
resurrection of the body, petal, leaf, stem, one tastes as one 
drinks from a cup as bitter as hell or lightning body beyond a 
shadow of doubt like the lazy fig tree smitten by Christ before he 
came to the cross himself and the nails were driven into his 
hands.' (p. 16) 

This image of a tree which is simultaneously life sustaining and life 

destroying is an example of what Harris believes are the paradoxes which 

we must struggle to understand if we are to move beyond the "charmed 

circles of the assassin," the static boundaries of our cultures, to true 

freedom. Since our knowledge is limited by the short span of our lives 

Harris believes that we must be open to the "translation" of our selves 

and our ideas by others, on both sides of the grave. This translation 

may come in the form of artistic expression in paint or words, or in 

numerous other forms, which relate man to man as kindred spirits able to 

assist each other. More than any other Harris novel. The Tree of the 

Sun traces the development of relationships, chosen deliberately, rather 

than resulting from family relationships or blood ties, as was often the 

case in the earlier novels. 

Julia designates the union of apparent opposites, the relationship 

of herself to others known and unknown, living and dead, as a "chorus of 

voices" — she had sensed before her death that someone would come later, 

read her letters, sense a relationship to her, and live for her those 



182 

inportant events sbe had not been able to experience, the most important 

being to have a child. Julia is a raember of the chorus of voices who 

speak in and through ha Silva, in and through his paintings. 

'Is it a violent universe ws inhabit (or impose upon ourselves) as 
conquest by deity? Is it a savage fonaula entangled in the origins 
of human culture, I mean conquest , to which we unwittingly 
subscribe in all our elaborate projects of soul ccnscripced by 
structure? Doubtless it is — who would deny it — 'she stopped again, 
then continued softly as if a chorus of voices dwelt in her throat, 
'a violent universe in many of its uniform faces but there's 
another inexplicable face within the carpet that's utterly 
different, that's not violent. Close to it, yes, because of the 
expedition , or apparently ruthless pace, of features of compassion 
so woven within a stricken moment that it seeks to strike , even as 
it rescues ; fierce rescue of line into incredible eyes drawn by 
holy and daemonic masters schooled for timeless ages by the hand of 
god.' (pp. 16-17) 

Harris believes that we can only move toward this nonviolent "face," 

toward a unity of psyche since our lives are so short and the reality of 

nature and cultures is extremely complex. However, he also believes 

that to conceive of any one structure as the base for all others is to 

allow ourselves to be trapped in charmed circles of the assassin, to be 

governed by static structures. Julia continues: 

I see it differently for my part within myself. I see the eyes of 
god, the ruthless hand that paints one's breath to save it, as a 
measure of the incompatibility of my understanding. And that leads 
me to prize freedom above all else in time; to restrain from 
investing in absolutes. . . Incompatibility is an ugly word. It 
breeds intolerance. Less ugly if one accepts the many faces of a 
conjurer's universe. To accept incompatible visions, to accept 
what is like and unlike oneself, to accept the tricks of nature as 
a versatile warning that truth exists but stands on unfathomable 
foundations, and still to believe in the unity of the self, is to 
run fleetingly (but sometimes securely) in a presence of glory. . . 
(p. 17) 

Da Silva has the ability to accept and digest seemingly incompatible 
spaces and shapes, an ability which thus allows him to create positive 
forces cut of the apparently negative losses of Julia and Francis. He 
can see himself as a "cannibaliser of other lives and deaths around the 



183 
globe, raider of ethers' private lives" (p. 42), and yet he also learns 
"the potentiality for compassion." Julia senses the presence of Da 
Silva in the future much as Da Silva senses the existence of his child. 
The unborn play through the living present in order to secrete in the 
living present capacities to absorb the catastrophes of the future. By 
learning from the despair of Julia and Francis, Da Silva is better able 
to cope with his own world and problems, to create life out of apparently 
"dead" elements whether they are of paint, of people, or of dreams. 

This image is symbolized by the ironmonger Leonard Rigby, Eleonor's 
husband, who like a modern Hephaestus takes "dead" iron and transforms 
it into the living beauty of art in metal, creating scenes of the lives 
of ancient Greek warriors and gods. Similarly, Da Silva takes "dead" 
paint or the words of dead people and transforms them into a living 
child or reality to govern his own existence and even mold others' lives 
as well, including perhaps those who read Harris's novels. 

Moving thus backward and forward in time through overlapping 
characters, Harris suggests man's need to see into and through others to 
the unity of men beyond the obvious cultural, superficial differences 
which separate men and prevent them from establishing true communication 
with themselves and each other. However, communication will remain 
impossible as long as men are locked into the charmed circles of the 
assassin with no way out except through conflict and destruction. 

At sixty-one Harris is still in his prime, and, one hopes, there 
are many more fictions to come from his pen. His newest. Angel at the 
Gate , is due to be issued this year (1982), and should provide one more 
piece in the grov^ing picture of a truly unique imagination, an 
imagination focussing on creativity, the unity of men, and on the 



184 
positive huiran and social results that a combination of those can 
effect. Though there are growing numbers of scholars and critics of 
Harris's fiction, the body of his imniense and complex achievement is 
only beginning to be explored and (to use one of his favorite 
metaphors) , unravelled. His novels are sure to provide stimulus for 
many miore people to seek toward the very creativity Karris himself 
aspires to, a subjective imagination which enables men to move toward 
freedom for all and away from eclipsing forces of history. 

Note 

One recalls, too, the Harlequin figure in The Heart of Darkness , 
the Russian adventurer dressed in multi-colored rags and tatters who 
seems to represent a composite of European colonialism in Africa. 



APPENDIX 



THREE INTERVIEVJS WITH UILSON HARRIS 



SYNCHRONIC ITY 

SHAMANISM 

THE EYE OF THE SCARECROW 



SYNCHP.ONICITY 



AN INTERVIEW WITH WILSON HARRIS 

MARION GILLILAND AND IVAi; VAN SERTIMA 

LONDON, 25 JITY 1980 



Interviewer: Synchronicity is sonething which you have said occurs 
in your novels. Could you explain for us what synchronicity is and, 
perhaps, how you use it? 

Harris: Synchronicity was a concept raised by Jung in one of his 
essays in which he pointed out that basically the principle is this: 
that if you have two parallel lines of events, let us assume that each 
line has built into it the normal cause and effect connections. It's a 
line in itself, it's intact in itself. So that's one thing. On the 
other hand you have another line of events which also has its cause and 
effect built into it. There is an intact position there as well. Now 
these two lines could relate acausally. In other words, they relate to 
each other by processes other than cause and effect. 

Jung gives a startling example of this with one of his patients who 
came to him and was telling him of a dream of a very rare beetle which 
did not exist in that part of the world at all; this was in Europe. 
While she was telling him of this dream there was a tapping on the 
window and when he went to the window and opened it, there was the 
beetle. 



186 



187 
Now no one knows how that beetle came there. Let us assume, for 
example, that an explorer was passing through who had brought this 
beetle from some far country and it escaped. I don't know. But it 
arrived there at that moment. So you have two lines of events. One is 
the woman telling him of her dream. Her dream has its own logical 
processes built into it. She is speaking to Jung; therefore, there is a 
logical exchange of words and ideas and discussion between them. On the 
other hand, the beetle comes from another area. The coincidence of 
these two constitutes the synchronist position. 

Now you will find that that was something that people mocked Jung 
for. But this notion has now been picked up and explored by people like 
Koestler who has written a book called Chance . It deals with coinci- 
dence. There was a man Ira Progoff who has written a book, and there 
are other people who have done this. 1 have discovered also that 
synchronicity is not something that was invented by Jung. It existed 
among the Lacondon Indians of Central America. They interpreted their 
dreams by procedures akin to synchronicity. That is, they didn't look 
for cause and effect, they looked for correspondences. So it's a very 
strange and ancient "spirit" if you want to call it that, which Jung 
rediscovered through his correspondence with his patient. And yet, 
scientists now, some scientists anyway, are looking at [synchronicity] 
because it makes us aware that the nature of the universe is much 
stranger than we think, that our capacities to comprehend the connections 
may be very limited capacities, but there are connections. 

Now my judgment of this is, as an imaginative writer, that what it 
discloses is that there are connections between apparently intact, 
water-tight areas of experience, that images that seem to be total and 



188 
sovereign are parts of a greater wViole, and that this greater whole will 
remain a ceaseless, haunting capacity which we pursue. But, in pursuing 
that greater whole, we revise our conceptions of the images that begin 
to constitute themselves in the parts of that whole; so you begin to 
make connections where you never dreant connections existed. 

Now in Black Marsden the curious thing that arose was this: I 
needed, when I wrote the novel, the explorer in Canada in the wilderness. 
I wanted an explorer who would disappear. I opened a book, an anthology 
of some sort, and came across the name John Hornby. That was an actual 
man, a recorded man who had actually disappeared. Now I introduced two 
figures: one is supposed to be my Hornby, the other is the historical 
Hornby. The Hornby that I created, if yoa like, speculates on his 
position in space and time and sees the other Hornby who has some sort 
of footnote in the history books, has a recordj his exploits are in some 
degree recorded. He sees the other Hornby as a kind of figure up in the 
stars, a sort of solitary figure in the stars. He [the historic Hornby] 
has some kind of legendary position vzhereas he [the Harris Hornby] 
exists in the ground in what he calls the very boot of humanity. He's 
unsung, he's unknown, he's unheralded. When this Hornby goes out into 
the wilderness into the snow, he leaves his cabin behind. UT:\en he looks 
back at it he sees this cabin in the distance. He can't get at it any 
longer and I had a sense of the cabin descending from the sky. These 
arc crude particulars of the novel. 

This novel was published in 1972. Jim Howard who is doing a book 
on my novels wrote to me around '77 (whenever it was that the Russian 
satellite crashed) to tell me that the people who had stumbled upon some 
bits of wreckage from this satellite were an expedition in pursuit of 



189 
the last journey that John Hornby had made. The synchronist thing here 
varies slightly in that it's not a simultaneous connection; years have 
passed. Nevertheless, you do have parallel lines, three lines here in 
fact. The first is the actual Hornby who disappeared into the wilder- 
ness. Now he influenced me in that I chose his name for my character. 
So that's another parallel line. But the third parallel line which 
occurs some years after is that Jim. Howard wrote to say that if my novel 
had appeared a year after, people could have legitimately said I had 
been influenced by the fallen satellite to create the kind of shape I 
created. So it's a kind of synchronist connection in the sense that 
these three parallel lines become parts of a greater whole. 

The novel, therefore, an imaginative fiction in my judgment, is 
immersed in a much stranger reality than one usually thinks to be the 
case. One usually thinks of a novel as something that you write; it may 
even be a kind of luxury. You really think of it as having a strange 
objectivity that impinges on the world outside of the shape of the book 
itself. It has something to say through itself and beyond itself; you 
rarely think of fiction in that way. There's a kind of futurity planted 
in it. Why is this? In my judgment this is so because when one writes 
an imaginative fiction, concentration is not daylight concentration, 
it's a much deeper kind of concentration. As a consequence, your ego 
(by that I mean the historical side of you) , the historical ego is in 
some degree moved, or broken, or altered to allow a far deeper intuitive 
self to come up and, in fact, to begin to do things within the concentra- 
tion which the writer applies to the book. This intuitive self comes 
up, strikes at the historical ego and then creates something which has a 
future beyond the comprehension of the writer himself. And, it has a 



190 
past also v,'hich is much deeper and stranger than the writer understands. 
So his fiction reflects in some strange active way a mysterious p^ist as 
well as a future. Now that means that the fiction has an objectivity 
that is not the objectivity of daylight consciousness. It is not on the 
surface of the nind, it is much deeper and the synchronicity thing seems 
to me to sustain this. It means that the images, the structures which 
we see around us are not as absolute and sovereign as they appear to be. 

Now there is an interesting aspect to this which has been raised by 
Ehrenzweig and only this week I have been reading this. I have told you 
of his Hidden Order of Art and what I discovered in connection to the 
dying god. In the last week or two his widow sent me a book of his 
which I had not read before, a book which has to do with gestalt. 
Gestalt is the way you shape things up. For example, if you look, you 
will see those are horses. That's a simple illustration. Or suppose 
you were to see six bags on the pavement and you look at them and you 
say "that looks like the body of a man." The bags may have some sort of 
"anatomy," you might see something that looks like legs and a head. Noxj 
that's gestalt. You articulate something in teriris of what you see. But 
what is lacking about it is this: you know that what you are looking at 
is partial, because it's not actually the body of a man, the three or 
four bags. This is where I find myself entering into dialogue with 
Ehrenzweig. 

At a certain point I deviate from Ehrenzweig; I'll tell you at what 
point I do. The position is that most cultures today tend to articulate 
a very solid position which is based on all sorts of vestiges that may 
appeal to then in curious kinds of ways. So that, for example, if you 
were to take the sorts of institutions around us some of these 



191 

institutions are placed in areas where people have experienced perhaps 
some event which seems to them of national importance. I mean the 
Houses of Parliament are placed on that ground next to the Thames; this 
relates to a palace which was once there. The tendency is to make a 
shape, to build that shape up from some image which related to the life 
of that culture. I mean this is a far, far deeper thing than finding 
those six bags. When that happens the tendency is to overlook how 
partial that is. It becomes a static gestalt. It becomes [a] highly 
articulate structure, and it seems to be the embodiment of the world. 
People associate themselves with it absolutely, commit themselves to it; 
all their loyalties are built into it. 

Now what Ehrenzv;eig points out is that as you descend beneath the 
surface mind there are much older, stranger, archaic elements that lie 
under the static gestalt. For example, as in Tumatumari the man is 
struck on the head and he has a kind of metaphysical lesion and that is 
how he is able to relate to the world around him in a strange and 
peculiar way, because he is no longer investing in static gestalt. Now 
the paradox in Ehrenzweig's position is this: that when you descend 
deeper and deeper, though these elements appear to be archaic, they seem 
to have some mysterious comprehension of the past and the future. So 
how could they be archaic? 

Now where I deviate from Ehrenzweig is that, in my judgment, all 
structures arc biased and partial, all structures. So even when you 
descend, if you still cling to the notion of a structure you are still 
involved in a bias. And if, in fact, you have no release from struc- 
tures, then the nature of the cosmos is one of incorrigible bias. 
If on the other hand (now this is where I stand) you have a kind of 



192 
unstructured force that mediates between structures, then you begin to 
resolve the position. 

Ehrenzweig v;rote his book about thirty years ago. He knew nothing 
then of the discoveries that have been made in science, for example, the 
neutrino. No one can capture the neutrino: it is not a structure. 
Science has been overturning notions of matter. Therfore, intuitively I 
find that what I have been doing in the novel all along^ and I think 
this applies to all my novels, is that the structures or images are all 
partial and there is a mediating force that cannot be structured between 
them that arbitrates between them. VJhen you sense this you have a 
chance to revise the canvases of existence around you, because those 
structures, those images, cannot be taken for granted. 

Come back to Black Marsden . The John Hornby figure whom I created 
cannot be taken for granted; he has roots that spread in all sorts of 
directions. These roots in fact seem to be of a nonverbal character 
because they have to do with the Russian satellite. In other words, the 
whole age in which one lives, one is so steeped in it, that one is 
penetrated from many different angles. So you begin to pick up a 
susceptibility to the future. It is not a direct, deliberate prophecy; 
but a futurity is written into the living present because the living 
present is not wholly structured. It is partial and in being partial it 
has a bias. VsThen it confesses this bias, it opens itself up to other 
possibilities. You can't escape from bias, but you can revise and 
transform bias. For example: the nature we see around us. Suppose you 
had a life span of 5000 years. This spot on which we stand would be 
wholly different. If you had a life span of 5000 years you could 
probably go in the desert and within 1000 years you could find that a 



193 

flower had grown, geological changes had occurred, the rock begins to 
yield. In otVier words, there are so many faces of nature, the psyche of 
nature has so many faces, that your vision of nature, your f)erception of 
nature, tends to conform to one boundary because that is your experience 
within your short life time. That boundary is subtly and complexly 
disrupted because nature is not what you think it is. Your perception 
of nature is always a cultural perception, not a true perception. So 
that is how synchronicity relates to this matter. 

Interviewer: That is a brilliant exposition that makes it far more 
clear to me. This has haunted me for a long time. I asked that man 
about it at your New York lecture; he was a painter . . . 

Harris: Yes, I remember him. Now the ideas I introduced at that 
talk were wholly new to most people who were there and they couldn't 
instantly grapple on to them. But one of the implications is, as you 
may have noted, that Black Marsden is a strange figure because he could 
be a figure of disaster as well as blessing. Black Marsden could have 
taken Goodrich's face. On the other hand, it is as if in some peculiar 
way this was a profound game in which Goodrich was being tested and 
tried. The wisdom that Goodrich gained when he sent Marsden away was 
part of the trial. If he hadn't been overshadowed by the danger he 
would not have been capable of making that decision. Now this decision 
remains one of the difficulties of the book. The decision never comes 
up immediately. You are told of the decision, but you are not told that 
he made the decision because this decision is coming up from that deep 
area which I call the mediating area, the unstructured area that 
mediates between structures. Coming up from there, as it comes up it 
has to break through all the conditions which are planted in Goodrich: 



194 
the way he has been educated, his kinds of biases, his face. Now all of 
us are conditioned. You may be making a decision, a decision you don't 
know because that decision is breiiking through and may not appear for 
some time. V.Tien it appears you may think it has just happened but it 
hasn't just happened, it could have been happening for years, coming up 
for years. That is what happens to Goodrich. The decision he makes in 
the end was one which was coming through, breaking through all these 
layers; and that's why you get this peculiar kind of almost arbitrary 
quality v/oven into Goodrich's behavior at tines. 

Now if I wanted to articulate this decision in immediacy, which is 
static gestalt, that would appeal to readers more quickly because that's 
how they interpret the whole. But I wasn't doing that. I was showing 
that static gestalt is one-sided and that when you have suddenly decided 
that those bags are a man, you have done that because for centuries and 
centuries your antecedents have been involved in a kind of mobility, a 
mobility that has allowed them to take different fabrics and put them 
together and sense relationships between different fabrics. Art is like 
that. You create something on a wall; the wall is stone but you create 
a shape that you call a deer. Now the stone is a fabric in itself. How 
did you come to decide? How did you come to make that decision? This 
comes out of ages of change, shifting impulses. Now if you invest in 
that thing as an absolute thing, you begin to deny all the things that 
have gone into it and which point ahead of it and through it at another 
kind of future. 

This is one of the positions in Black Marsden ; the novel is written 
like that. For example, that scene when he is going through the desert 
and you get all these things, the dust and the differeat visions you 



195 

have of the rocks. He has a sense of these rocks shaping themselves up 

like cathedrals. He has a sense of the assassin within him and behind 

him. That is the part when he is going through with Knife, when he 

makes this journey in the diary with Knife. This journey takes him up 

to the point where he is told that he should go through the pass, when 

the pipe appears, the Scottish lament which meant "you mustn't go 

through, there is danger," and Knife said to him "No, the whole thing is 

turned around. You can go through." But he distrusted Knife and he 

didn't go through because in some strange way he felt that if he w^ere 

going through he might be going through into the nameless country and to 

death, and he wasn't yet equipped to die. He pulled back, but in 

pulling back he sensed that he had gained something, nevertheless, of 

what seemed beyond himself. In that whole journey through the South 

American wilderness you have this notion of the whole universe as it 

collapses. The particles that float are the very particles out of which 

you build a new universe, even as they float. He has a sense of coming 

up and seeing the rocks clustered together like cathedrals and a strange 

sensation of the assassin. It is as if he could bear the burden of the 

assassin within himself because he could sense that the kind of wound 

that is inflicted by the assassin is the kind of wound which one has to 

sustain and bear within oneself if one is to be profoundly human. 

The ribbon of road along which they travelled continued to 
ascend gently and after a mile or so, a new almost weighted 
stillness was added to the presence of the rocks in the basin 
below; they (the rocks) stood now less upon the rim of the basin 
and more clearly within the contours of an ancient lake or sea 
waterless now as a desert. Goodrich was fascinated by this 
transparent sea within a terrestrial cloud on the bed of which the 
rocks clustered into cathedrals and palaces, circles of repetitive 
fate or natural doom. There was a great perhaps terrible charm to 
that buried rock-city or petrification of times from the height 
they had now reached. . . . 



196 

It came upon him suddenly — this sense of great danger — of a 
timeless assassin standing at his elbov/. There , said the assassin, 
life ny charmed circles forever and ever . , . ( Black Marsden , p. 84 
author's italics) 

Above all the assassin functions as if the malaise of a society 
will articulate itself into static gestalt. The assassin becomes a kind 
of figure who dwells in that kind of space. The poisons which he 
secretes in himself are built up in the ways in which society polarizes 
itself. If you have a world in which you exist in charmed circles 
forever and ever, you create polarization. 

Now you can see the Intuitive thrust of it. This is as far as I 
could get with him. But you can see looking back at it how clear it is, 
if you understand gestalt. I had read nothing of static gestalt then. 
I suppose if I had known that I could have extended the book. You can 
see that his sense of the assassin comes when the assassin says "There 
lie my charmed circles forever and ever." You can never escape from 
them. Then it goes on: "And yet as the dark figure addressed him 
secretly, mockingly, privately (at the heart of his secret book, upon a 
private page memorized inwardly for insertion into his diary)." This 
whole passage is occurring within Goodrich's diary, but it is a diary 
which is like a movement. As he writes, he could be writing himself 
into a chance for life or oblivion. "Goodrich was aware of a deeper 
enigma, a curious privilege to dream., (and to be able to support and 
unravel the dream) of the assassin." ( Black Marsden , p. 85). By 
unravelling the dream of the assassin, he is breaking out of the charmed 
circles, he is breaking out of the static gestalt. What he is facing is 
the formidable price that cultures have inflicted on themselves in terms 
of this static gestalt, in terms of this articulation which we seek in 
terms of novels and everything, to believe that we can articulate a 



197 

transparent world. For Naipaul the world is totally transparent; the 

books he writes are wholly transparent. That is the ignorance of static 

gestalt, the belief that you can walk around and see everything, that 

everything is transparent, that you can put it down on the page without 

realizing how one-sided this so-called transparency is. 

Yesterday perhaps the charm, the terror, the fascination of it 
might have been insupportable. Today — since his immersion last 
night in the Samsonian mask of the bull, the curious light upon the 
horns of the bull — he could endure the danger of coming into the 
neighborhood of death-dealing masks and gods. ( Black Marsden , p. 
85) 

Now this Samsonian mask was when he had the dream of the bull that 

appeared with the horns. This is when he goes to bed outside and Knife 

tells him that there is a woman who wanders around this place and comes 

to visit people but she is rarely seen. 

It occurred to Goodrich that on his long journey that day — an 
immensity it seemed to him now — he had seen a few wings circling 
overhead but not a foot on the ground. 

'There are animals around,' said Knife as if he read his 
thoughts. 'That's how a hidden population travels. V.'e're lucky to 
come on wheels.' 

The great curtains of tropical night were descending upon the 
Director-General's mediterranean stage. In the western sky it was 
steel, a steely avalanche raged. In the eastern sky it was dark, a 
mysterious avalanche descended and a kind of perfume came from the 
stars. Goodrich's nose wrinkled involuntarily (as it had when he 
sensed the burnt room in the farmhouse) and he wondered if, by any 
chance, the wom-an of whom Knife had spoken had returned and stood 
somewhere in the darkness. He discerned her already with sensuous 
eyes on the tip of his nose. Then Knife came out of the farmhouse 
with an armful of wood. This he arranged on the ground, applied a 
natch, fanned the flame. ( Black Marsden , p. 78) 

Now I think that's where they eat, and then: 

When they had eaten Knife offered Goodrich another cup of 
Namless beverage. 'Come on,' he said when Goodrich refused. 'I 
know it makes you feel a little sick at first but you need it in 
this part of the world. Trust me. I am a seasoned campaigner.' 
Goodrich capitulated and swallowed a mouthful. Soon he had another 
and another. He kept a sharp eye now (scarecrow sharp with the 
Namless beverage) upon the shape of night beyond the fire. Still 
there was no sign of the woman. Knite had spread the blankets on 



the. ground. It was inclined to be soirewhat misty but on the whole 
quite warm beside the fire, under a blanket. 

Knife was off the moment he put his head down but Goodrich v/as 
so tired his senses were keyed up upon the borders of sleep in 
associative parallels and faculties. There was a gentle sighing 
V7ind and the sound of a shaking door or a window from the wrecked 
building. Also a hooting noise, an owl or some other creature. An 
an occasional twitter and spa.rking like a fire of crickets in a 
clump of grass. 

He counted god's sheep, felt no sickness this time from the 
Namless beverage but tension, almost an ague, the sense of his own 
limitations, the sense of ripening into the Director-General's 
comedy of relations. 

Then it came between curtain and curtain of night he saw the 
woman emerge from the farmhouse. She came straight over to him but 
he found himself unable to move, curled tight into the ripe scene 
he had become. She began to undress methodically and as she stood 
in profile against the fire, her head in shadow, he dreamt he could 
see with the severed eyes of his nose the pointed eyes of her 
breasts. Then she turned to face him. 

An animal-smelling face nuzzled into him but it was not the 
woman. It was not a dog. It was not a sheep. It was the 
constellation of the bull, Goodrich exclaimed, the tall bull of 
night on its knees beside him with the longest horns he had ever 
seen reaching into the stars. They picked him off the ground and 
held him steady. He wanted to lie back, curl up again. He was 
about to slump when the bull pushed him forward, caught him between 
its horns, braced him with its forehead, pushed him on again. Now 
he was pushed on the forehead of the bull straight upon her: 
upright coitus — upstanding coitus — into which she had been drawn 
upon the head of the bull between the upright and upstanding 
pillars of night. 

Pillars of night which he (Goodrich) had uprooted (so it 
seemed to him now). In one sense (it was true) they had uplifted 
him, pushed him off the ground into her thighs, between her thighs; 
in another sense it was his Samsonian avalanche, his uprooting of 
everything into a collaborative revolution of establishment. 
( Black Marsden . pp. 79-80) 

Now that is what saves him from the assassin, the m.emory of that 

bull, the collaborative uprooting of everything. And thus he could 

uproot the charmed circles, because he was not locked into them; so he 

could bear the assault of the assassin, something which he could not 

have supported before because it would have terrified him utterly. The 

notion that one has made the assassin, one has created the assassin in 

terms of the kind of society in which we live, in which we polarize 

ourselves so absolutely and seek only power, so that the strongest 



199 
polarization triumphs over weaker ones and crushes them down. Then in 
terms of that power you survive. 

The conquistador is a kind of assassin. There is the other rude 
assassin, not only the rouiaatic like Che Guevara, but an assassin who 
has some compassion and pity and goes for what he regards as the prime 
target of corruption so that you can go into a town and not desolate it. 

There are distinctions there. U'hat is happening is that Goodrich 
could endure the danger of coming into the neighborhood of death-dealing 
masks and gods. Now all of this is possible if you assume that there is 
an arbitrating essence between structures. So the Samsonian bull, the 
uprooting, the collaborative thing has to do with this essential arbitra- 
tion between structures, that cannot be structured itself. It's in this 
very area where Goodrich is making his way through this landscape in 
which he has this extraordinary sensation after the dream. 

Knife's bus rattled and Goodrich was aware of a change of 
scenery. 

It was the same world as yesterday but a curious subtle 
fleshing (if that was the right word) appeared upon the rocks. 
Perhaps, thought Goodrich, it was something to do with the light. 
Whatever it was — light or film of new vegetation — it had subtly 
awakened the landscape, the bones of the landscape, as a sleeping 
but treacherous giant stirs refreshed by age-old cataclysmic 
dreams. (Once there had been an earthquake, once a volcanic 
eruption across Namless. Once — once only in the living 
memory — there had been a shift of ice down the mountains burying an 
entire village.) (Black Marsden , pp. 82-83) 

Now that is possible too, because earlier in the novel I comment 

somewhere about that place in Peru where this man looks down from 

snow-clad mountains into the depths of the Amazon. You have this 

contrast between winter and summer, but here he goes along and you get 

the sense of what the landscape is doing. You have these "cathedral 

clusters, as well as pavement spires or dinosaurs in the midst of the 

pace of infinity," ( Black Marsden , p. 83). You have this sense that: 



200 

They (the rock clusters) all subtly moved as if one detected 
the most curious refugee church of mankind in action, walking 
bones, uprooted bones all fleshed by an avalanche x^here the very 
nature of things ceased to be a self-conscious theme and became the 
subconscious theatre or liberation of men from fanatical pursuits. 
Thus there was a submission to movement, yes, in cultural phenomena 
of Namless Theatre — but so intuitive, so unspectacular — it became 
opus contra avalanch e. ( Black Marsden , p. 83) 

You have all these dimensions of movement, and this is the one I was 

speaking of, this is where he comes across: 

There was a third vision or sensation as the road swung and 
they began to ascend. The air seemed saturated by a dream — a 
film — an almost transparent cloud of dust which came over the rim 
of the basin and drifted across Namless Theatre. Goodrich felt an 
irritational correspondence with the "milky way" when the spaces 
between the stars are filled with a nameless cloud of particles; 
but now one was looking not up — not vertically into the spaces of 
night — but horizontally into the spaces of day. The delayed action 
of the rocks before they plunged possessed its quintessence here: 
quintessential shock or deliberation of movement, seminal ruin , 
seminal catastrophe . ( Black Marsden , p. 84) 

This seminal ruin, seminal catastrophe is as close as I came in 
this novel to stating that there is an essence that mediates between 
structures, and thus, you are not wholly locked into these charmed 
circles, or biases, or dread, or fear, or whatever. So there it is, and 
the novel seens to prove itself when it picks up an associative parallel 
outside of itself as if the novel is making its way into a nonverbal 
struggle. 

The novels I am working on are so peculiar. If I were working in 
terms of the conventional novel I would be working in terms of static 
gestalt. If you go back to Palace of the Peacock, (as early as Palace ) , 
I now understand some of the things. For example at the end of the 
novel where the tree is uprooted, the tree walks, there appears in the 
tree this lightning painting like flesh, and then Carrol's song comes 
(Palace of the Peacock, p. 146). Now I see what is happening there, the 
tree is the uprooting of a certain kind of bias, or fear, or dread. It 



201 
moves in the landscape, when it moves it picks up a painting, then 
Carrol's song comes as if the wood itself is singing, as if the tree is 
singing. Vlhat is happening is that certain boundaries — one is the 
verbal boundary — are disrupted by the metaphor of the walking tree. The 
painting is a nonverbal act, but it comes into the novel in the form of 
a metaphor and then the song has the sense of the rasping voice of the 
peacock. It's not the kind of song that you can pin down, [there is a] 
kind of movement: the tree walks, the bias as it walks, then there is 
the charmed circle of the tree which is disrupted. The tree has 
different manifestations: it could appear to be not moving, wooden and 
stupid. In Palace you have all those different associations of "tree"; 
so the tree walking is the uprooting of that kind of bias. 

For a long time I pondered on that kind of thing. I wondered why 
it is that when one has that kind of vision that seems so deep, why is 
it that the world around you changes hardly at all? What I judge is 
this sense: that what the imaginative artist is doing is compressing 
times together so that in fact this may have no immediate bearing en the 
society at all. It has a bearing in terms of futurity, just as Marsden 
does. In other words, imaginative art has nothing to do with power 
politics. People think it has. It has to do with a kind of vision that 
is real, but which the society as a whole may not correspond to at that 
moment. Nevertheless, it is real. The compression is so startling 
that, in fact, it carries the tone of futurity rather than an immediate 
action. 

When you try to analyze neutrinos, as some scientists are doing 
today, they seem to bear out the notion that you do have a kind of 
seminal catastrophe, seminal ruin, but seminal which is at the heart of 



202 

a kind of arbitrating essence. V,'e have such difficulty grappling with 
such teriTis that we tend to think of it as catastrophe. Tb.ere is a 
school of cathenatics today v/hich involve themselves in what they call 
"happy catastrophe." The butterfly comss out of a happy catastrophe. 
There is a kind of architecture which we see today in California and 
elsewhere which might have to respond to earth tremors, and if they can 
respond, those architectures would relate to what could be called happy 
catastrophe. In other words, they would digest the shock and carry 
within themselves a seminal ruin that makes it possible for them to 
digest the shock. If you were to build over that earthquake belt an 
adamant structure you might make yourself even more prone to destruction. 

Interviewer: There was something relating to this in a theory of 
how life possibly began. There would be fairly rigid, unconscious 
elements, and in the movement from the molecules to the first organic 
particles of life where consciousness begins, there is a leaping. Where 
did the leap occur? Kow did the leap occur? There is an accident where 
something loses itself, it breaks up. In other words, what was origi- 
nally X becomes X-, so that the X- introduces an opening to a Y-. This 
is similar to what you mean as seminal ruin. In other words, it has to 
break up, something has to happen that is structural dislocation in 
order to allow for another structural dislocation to produce another 
new possibility. 

Harris: There are various ways of approaching it. In my talk in 
New York on The Rainmakers I spoke of it as an arbitrating element. You 
have a sense of arbitration between the sky god and the earth god. As 
the sky god sent rain down to the earth and sculpted the earth, the 
earth god would strike back at the sky in terms of the great cloud 



203 
sculptures. You are constantly dating your apprehension of what creation 
means. If you were to simply root it in a formidable, structured sky 
god then you would lose this subtle relationship between sky and earth. 
Between the two, I am suggesting, is this arbitration which cannot 
itself be structured. It's mobile, it's utterly mobile. Enrenzweig 
came close to that except that when he wrote his first book in 1953 he 
was intent on locating descending structures. 

Interviewer: In other words, he felt that the problem lay in what 
you call daylight concentration. Underneath you could find true struc- 
tures when in fact no true structures exist. 

Harris: You could find these true structures underneath the static 
gestalt. It was a daring thing for him to write at that time, because 
the book fell by the wayside completely. Academics and universities 
disregarded it entirely. In Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness 
Da Silva enters a certain age and mask, then he paints himself into 
another mask, he is surrounded by masked figures. 

Interviewer: This Da Silva figure is so critical to your later 
novels that there may lie a theme central to the novels. 

Harris: As a matter of fact, in the four books Palace , Heartland , 
Da Silva , and Tree of the Sun , I point out in an interview that Da Silva 
in Palace comes to you covered in newspapers and the lines are running. 
There you have the seminal, catastrophic motif of the painting on the 
canvas. 

Interviewer: In another sense you are using another image, because 
the newspaper is the news of the day breaking up. 

Harris: Da Silva is covered with the news of the day breaking up. 
I hadn't thought of that when I wrote the book. 



204 

Intervie.vzer: Thank yoii, for explair.iag the unusual use of 
synchronicity in your novels. 



SHAIIAInISM 



AN INTERVIEW WITH WILSON HARRIS 

MICHAEL GILKES 

LONDON, 7 JULY 1977 



Interviewer: In the University of Kent brochure where you are 
listed, VJilson, as a special author, there is this description of your 
work: you are called "the Guyanese who has experimented with the 
mythical form of the novel as a way of adapting this European genre to 
South American history and landscape." How do you react to this 
description of your work? 

Harris: I do not think that I would put it myself in that way "as 
a way of adapting this European genre to South American history and 
landscape." But perhaps one could illustrate the ways in which I find I 
have been using myth, or mythical form, in my novels by looking at The 
Secret Ladder and what occurs there, and also at Da Silva da Silva's 
Cultivated VJilderness . 

Now in The Secret Ladder one has clearly the use of the Perseus- 
A-ndromeda theme. I have always felt that in a heterogeneous society the 
function of myth is enormously important because it helps us to revise 
static attitudes. Through myth one has the possibility of looking at 
dangers which could encompass one within some area of myth that one 
takes for granted. For example, in The Secret Ladder one has the 
ancient African. I wrote that novel at a time when I had not anticipated 



205 



206 
the rise of the African themes in the Caribbean. Clearly that is an 
important elenent in the Caribbean but it also sustains certain dangers 
which one has to lock at carefully. For example, in The Secret Ladder 
the death of Poseidon occurs when Bryant is responsible for his death 
without intending his death. One could see this strand dravm out of the 
Perseus nyth, the death of the grandfather. It's a very important 
incident in the Perseus myth. The other element is the element of 
sacrifice. One could see the Bryant involvement with ancient Poseidon, 
whom he regards as his grandfather, as an involvement in an area that 
could become idolotrous. In fact, he does harm the one thing that he 
prizes most. Bryant sees Poseidon as a kind of African grandfather. He 
reinforces his affections; this leads to an idolotrous stasis and this 
may result in greater harm being done to the ver^,' cause he serves. 

Bringing in the Greek myth one revises that complex and relates to 
that complex as something which is inevitably partial; it could never 
have a total shape of significance. This is one of the realities of 
myth. 

Interviewer: This is what you mean by the myth for "getting one 
out of a corner?" 

Harris: Getting one out of a corner, getting one out of a fixation 
that becomes so absolute and total that one could be devoured by it. I 
found that I was able to, perhaps deliberately, relate the m.yth of 
Perseus and the grandfather very subtly. It seems to me in a heteroge- 
neous complex that it is possible for one myth to act on another myth in 
this way. One has the European myth acting on the African myth. I 
don't think in an area like the Caribbean or the South Americas with 
this enormous heterogeneity that one should be fixated in any absolute 



207 
condition of myth because in a strange way this seems to me to destroy 
the imaginative truth of myth. VJe have this in the involvement of 
Bryant with the grandfather; this has to do with the whole business of 
the way myth is distended from or within the historical womb and the 
necessity to see that womb in all its complex parts. 

The other issue v/hich arises and has to do v;ith Andromeda also 
plays ver>' subtly in The Secret Ladder . We have this curious figure of 
Catalena, the Portuguese woman who is rescued and becomes a sort of 
Andromeda figure. But there is an enormous validity in the Andromeda 
figure because when one looks at the whole issue of sacrifice one 
wonders to what extent the feminine muse is at the heart of sacrifice. 
We usually think of sacrifice (especially in the Christian theme of 
sacrifice), we think of the crucified Christ. We forget that behind the 
crucified Christ there are all these Andromeda figures. They are 
figures of the feminine, the female, the mother, and all the suffering 
that is instilled, implicated, in those figures, therefore the whole 
theme of sacrifice. Once again one is no longer committed to a total 
function of sacrifice, to a mere dom.inated issue of sacrifice. One is 
able to look at something much more pregnant. 

That is how the Andromeda figure comes into the myth. Those are 
two areas in which there is a quite deliberate utilization of European 
myth: in fact it comes at the point in the novel where we find the foul 
sisters, the immortal foul sisters Hope and Progress. One has here the 
curious ushering in of the Gorgon sisters and the destructive female 
element. In other words, it seems to me in the heterogeneous complex 
that we have all these various areas of myth: European, African, 
Pre-Columbian, Asian. All these various areas of myth can play against 



208 
each other. They are rooted in profound necessities which reside in 
that society. These necessities have to do with the clarity of a state 
of the imagination which is created by a combination of motives rather 
than by absolute, sovereign images. There is a combination of motives 
and one thing plays against another so that one is constantly capable of 
"coming out of the coiner" as you said, coming out of a total fixation, 
a binding fixation which could lead eventually to a conflict, to insane 
conflict. 

Interviewer: In fact this very variety of mythological references 
in your work seems to suggest a good deal more than merely establishing 
a particular social or cultural context. As you pointed out, you use so 
many different kinds of myth that it is impossible to talk about a South 
American historical landscape as the aim or purpose of what you are 
doing. One thinks, for example, of Yeats using the Irish myths and 
legends to create a particular Irishness in his poetry. But I don't 
find this quality in your own work. 

Harris: No, that is not my intention. My intention is to sense 
the enormous depths of the native reality which builds on universality, 
because I believe in a great quest or struggle in which we are involved 
and the quest for a community in which we have authority in freedom and 
in which it is possible to sense the genuine imperatives of sacrifice as 
well as the genuine potentiality for great beauty. It is this quest for 
a. community that makes the imaginative artist profoundly responsible and 
this kind of responsibility has nothing to do with being a spokesman for 
a particular society. The world in which we live today is so dangerous 
and so riddled with problems that what is at stake is the birth or 
rebirth of comm.unity in the most genuine sense in which one could use 



209 
that term. So that in a curious way a v/riter is in exile because that 
community is so imperiled that for him to believe that it exists in any 
one state or any one situation is a self-deception. 

Interviewer: I am thinking that the writer is involved in 
discovering a reality beyond the superficial facts, because as you point 
out, society is more involved than it appears if one simply looks at 
history as a collection of facts. There is Mircea Eliade's attitude to 
myth which he refers to as sacred history, not history in the historical 
sense. As he puts it, "it is the sacred that is preeminently the real. 
To tell a myth is to say not what happened historically but what 
happened ab-originally , before history begins." It is fair to say that 
your work deals with this kind of reality. 

Harris; Yes, I would say that, but in a certain very real sense. 
In the sense that what one brings out of the Guyanas and the South 
Americas and the Caribbean is that kind of very deep-seated sensation 
and one is therefore indebted to that kind of place; so one brings that 
out. One is not saying that place is not important; the place is 
important because of this extraordinary cargo which one brings out of 
it. But in fact, as Mircea Eliade is saying, there is a reality that 
runs through that place which runs deeper than place. I would relate 
this to a community in which the writer is a profoundly responsible 
imagination and that responsibility has nothing to do v?ith being a 
spokesman. I do not believe that artists' propaganda. And I think this 
is a great danger, that people should be pushed forward to become 
spokesmen. They are pushed forward in terms in what is called "grounds 
of dignity," all of which are admirable aspects of the body politic. 

Interviewer: Perhaps necessary in the Caribbean. 



210 

Harris: Perhaps necessary but all of this could falsify the 
deepest significance that resides in this sort of urgent motivations 
that arise within the imaginative personality. 

Interviewer: I was reading recently a v/ork on shamanism, I've 
forgotten the author's name, but I remember the author wrote that the 
shaman links heaven and earth, sacred and profane through his own 
arcane knowledge. He is a sense of what is called the pillar of heaven. 
Now this kind of imagery appears in your work quite a lot; it is the 
imagery of the ascent or descent of a particular pillar, be it of fire, 
or rock, or what have you. I am thinking, for example, at the end of 
Palace of the Peacock of the ascent, or again the ascent of the water on 
the pole V7ith Fenwick waiting on the river. Is there an element of 
shamanism that you deliberately employ in your writing or did it begin 
with Palace of the Peacock as an unconscious, unsought for element? 
Because it seems to me to relate to your use of mythology and your 
attitude to wViat is "real." 

Harris: This goes back to what you were saying in the first place. 
There wasn't a deliberation in Palace , but when I look back I can see 
the shamanistic elements. Before I deal with that, perhaps I could come 
back to the issue of adapting myth. 

Now I gave an example of The Secret Ladder in which there is a 
certain kind of adaptation of myth because one has the deliberate 
Perseus-Andromeda themes, though these themes are used in such a way all 
the time that one is unravelling a complex of myth. New content enters 
in the case of the Secret Ladder ; the Andromeda figure is no longer the 
purely European Andromeda figure. That Andromeda figure has picked up 
new content to do with the necessities that reside in the Canje area and 



211 
obviously the same applies to Bryant and to Poseidon. So one is 
unravelling a kind of static image and new content engages; and therefore 
the whole sort of complex v/hich we discussed before comes into play. 
But there is another way in which myth functions and in which there 
isn't even that element of tenuous deliberation that is in Palace of the 
Peacock . This comes very clearly in Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated 
Wilderness because I had not sensed the strange importance of the 
self-creating creator which Ehrenzweig speaks of in The Hidden Order of 
Art . 

I was really astonished when I read that book because I discovered 
that the theme is at the heart of Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated 
Wilderness , with modifications because one has Da Silva as a dying god 
precisely because his life, his inner life, his self-portraits, involve 
other masks: Magellan, Cuffy, Henry Rich the English aristocrat. One 
has all those complicated investitures of tradition within which he 
resides and he unravels them in order to learn much more profoundly how 
in fact the theme of the hero, this is one aspect of it, the theme of 
the self-born, self-spa^Nnaed hero, who is susceptible to the furies, who 
seems to exist on a monolithic plane, this self-born, self -spawned hero 
is burdened with guilt or innocence, as the case may be. We lose sight 
entirely of the "nameless crew," all that were involved with him. The 
entire complex comes back and attacks a living society, a living person 
within society, so that one had that kind of modification of the 
self --creating creator, as Ehrenzweig puts it. There is a modification, 
nevertheless; you could see this thrust of the dying god that is reborn 
and may be reborn in a manner which allows him to see more clearly, more 
deeply into the past so that he is able to create a real future rather 



212 
than sinply to succumb to the iroprinLs of the past which would push him 
on remorselessly to repeat the same catastrophes, the same alienations, 
the same divisions betv;een the self-spavned god and the nameless crew. 
This occurs because of the curious way the dying god dies through others 
and, in a sense, releases something chat needs to be released in himself 
and through others as well. 

Now that is one aspect of the self-creating creator. The other 
aspect is the curious grouping of muses or madonna figures. I think 
Ehrenzweig lists three: we have the exact number in Jen as the flying 
madonna at a certain level, Manya and Kate Robinson, [or] there is the 
madonna of the state. That strange grouping which Enrenzweig discovers 
when he looks deeply into Mozart and Goethe. I had no idea of the 
importance of that kind of constellation. That is the opposite to what 
I was saying in The Secret Ladder , in which I had a certain kind of 
deliberation between the Perseus and Andromeda figures. But here it was 
a wholly intuitive thing and I was utterly startled to find the signifi- 
cance of that kind of constellation. Furthermore, we see that we have 
the oceanic madonna figure v.'hich plays through Kate in the curious 
Madonna Pool. We also have the flying madonna and this comes out of the 
ways in which one senses a certain evolution of consciousness. The 
animal, the bird tViat flies instinctively from one mark to another mark, 
that kind of instinct has been modified in the human consciousness, 
precisely because this evolution has occurred and man has lost or 
partially lost that unerring instinct, but in losing that gained 
something else, the capacity for hir.dsight. So that Da Silya looks back 
at his canvases painted seven years before and sees things begin to 
emerge. This is how the genie, the lamp, comes into play. 



213 

Interviewer: Here you have another myth, of course. It is 
unconscious and needs to be released but also controlled. 

Harris: But it is enorinously interesting, I think, to see that we 
have the flying madonna or the aerial figure, and we have the water 
madonna, the oceanic madonna, and that kind of conciliation is in some 
degree the conciliation which Ehrcnzweig is bringing into play with 
certain modifications. It is interesting to reflect on this, because 
when we look at Hudson's The Green Mansions (and this relates to your 
question on shamanism), we could see that Rima is his aerial madonna, 
which corresponds to the Manya figure. When you go to Carpentier you 
have the earth-water madonna in Rosario. Those figures, both of them, 
in terms of their own unique content, appear in Da Silva da Silva's 
Cultivated Wilderness . So that you have a development that astonished 
me to discover — that kind of constellation, with modifications. But it 
is quite wrong to speak of adapting. It is wrong to speak of it even in 
terms of The Secret Ladder context, because it is not a deliberate 
adaptation. What one is doing all the time is relating to a certain 
kind of imaginative truth in myth. 

Interviewer: VThat I suppose Jung calls an archetypal image rather 
than a mythological one? 

Harris: VJell, I don't know how to describe it. I can only see 
that the thrust of responsibility which has to do v/ith authority and 
freedom is so strange that one has to allow what appears to be contrast- 
ing spheres of experience to play on each other in such a manner that we 
begin to modify and transform what would become a wholly polarized 
condition of being. VJhen that polarization occurs, one breeds conflict 
because there is no way out of the impasse save through conflict. 



214 
Interviewer: Talking about Ehrenzweig' s book, it occurs to nie that 
he does discuss Mozart's Magic Flute in terms of a shamanistic thrust. 
What I found fascinating in reading that section is that he discusses 
the role of the magic flute itself as a curiously bisexual symbol. It 
struck me iniaediately that here again you have a shamanistic quality and 
I don't know if you felt it when you were writing, but you do use the 
bone flute in your novels in that curious way, in that the flute has 
that double significance and is capable of penetrating but also of 
containing. Did you actually feel that consciously when you employed 
that image of the flute? 

Harris: There again one speaks of myth. I did not dream that the 
Carib flute had this enormous bearing on Palace of the Peacock . Toward 
the end in particular when Carroll is whistling through the various 
horizons it seemed to me that this related in a very strange and 
remarkable way to the Carib flute because the Carib flute was a very 
serious attempt to Caribs made to undermine their own hubris and to 
begin to contain contrasts, to digest contrasts so that in fact, once 
again, you see this thrust towards a community, a real community with a 
possibility of rebirth in it rather than a possibility of having 
alienated groups, one group ruling the other, one group oppressing the 
other, one group oppressed by the other. Our world is riddled by that 
in one shape or form, because tyranny unfortunately breeds tyranny. And 
this is a very difficult thing to learn. In Ascent to Qmai I was trying 
to point to this and point to the possibilities in fact of freedom and 
learning freedom through suffering and tyranny and deprivation. But it 
is much easier for tyranny to breed tyranny and for those who have been 
beaten down to become the tyrants of tomorrow. To return, therefore to 



215 
Palace of the Peacock , I had not sensed it. But the flute idea is 
there, just as I hadn't sensed the Ehrenzweig concepts. This flute idea 
has an enormous significance. The vhole idea of music in the Tree of 
the Sun which takes up from the point of Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated 
Wilderness with Jen's pregnancy. This is the seed from v/hich the v;hole 
novel grows. Apart from the idea of painting in Da Silva da Silva's 
Cultivated Wilderness there is a thrust to music and a thrust to sculp- 
ture. All these different arts are arts which point to the unfinished 
nature of a community and out of this unfinished nature it is possible 
to begin to grow again. 

Interviewer: It is necessary to have a kind of space, an open end, 
to this kind of idea of community; otherwise it becomes static. Are you 
saying that, like the Navajo Indian, you can't weave the blanket without 
leaving that little break in the stitch so that the soul can escape? 

Harris: It's a question that we have a tendency, because of long 
centuries of conquest, to involve ourselves in implacable sovereignties. 

Interviewer: It's more comfortable. 

Harris: It's very difficult to create a new sense of community in 
which sovereignty has to be yielded in order to find a new dimension. 
This is very difficult; and the clamor all the time is to cling to what 
appears to be absolute and sovereign.- All images are partial and when 
we cling, therefore, to what appears to be a total condition of sover- 
eignty, we deceive ourselves about the nature of the world in which we 
live, because we invest in that image a totality which it does not 
possess. In doing so we have no other alternative but to exterminate 
others which do not fit in. It is in this sense that we have to see all 
images as partial. But the partiality of an image may help us to grow. 



216 
because it becoces a motive that relates to another motive, and another 
motive. There is a combination of motives, a sort of ars combinatori 
theme, combination of motives. And the clarity that in fact em.erges out 
of that combination is a clarity of hope and growth, the clarity of 
achievement, of maturity. VJhereas, if we invest in an absolute condi- 
tion, that [absolute] maturity is eclipsed precisely because of the 
conditions ve have been describing. That [is the artist's] responsi- 
bility. If the artist simply becomes a spokesman for a group, he is 
consumed by the doom which will consume all those to whom he speaks; and 
that is part of the dead end of a lot of twentieth century writing, 
because inevitably it has led to all sorts of totalitarian fixations. 
We can see some of the major European figures, Ezra Pound and others, 
who became eventually locked into a ritual order that led to a totali- 
tarian monstrosity. 

Interviewer: The dream of perfection, in fact. 
Harris: Well, it is the dream of perfection, but a perfection 
which does not take into account the fact that risks are constant. What 
perfection means is that there is a ground of fate: fate has many roots 
in one's life. If you were to live perhaps according to a certain 
condition, which is a condition to a large extent associated with your 
upbringing, you relate to one root which comes up and that root is the 
saving hand. There are other roots which lie outside of that, away from 
that, and these roots may never come into your consciousness at all. 
But if they do, it means that you become involved in risks of a 
different order than the risks you would be involved in if you had kept 
safely to the line which related to the way you had been conditioned and 
educated. But, those risks which are taken on the extreme side are also 



217 
assisted by a certain kind ol; fate which grows out of the soil. In 
other words, there is a certain kind of perfection. And this brings us 
to the shamanistic level, which has to do with our limited conditions as 
humankind . It has to do with the sense that what is at the bottom of 
the ladder is at the top of the ladder. Therefore, the dazzling figure 
of grace which is at the top of the ladder and is a dazzling figure 
because it can never be apprehended in a total investiture. At the 
bottom of the ladder, v/here you have the difficult pressure of fate and 
the ground is riddled and torn, that kind of fate which is going up 
there is transformed at various levels. Fate is in fact a little higher 
up. One has instincts at the bottom of the ladder. That instinct 
becomes fate. But fate is one of the conceptions that lies at the heart 
of tragedy, which is one of the great achievements of any culture. Eut 
then you go higher up, above tragedy; you move to that dazzling figure. 
The enormous risks which a certain kind of imagination could take may be 
possible because there is some kind of guiding hand which is thrusting 
up and which sustains him so that he may not entirely topple into the 
abyss. This has nothing to do with a static condition, because in a 
sense he had to discover that kind of a fate for himself. There may be 
many roots of fate in a line; and if you happen to be at this end of the 
line, that proof is the one which is most pertinent to you because you 
are conditioned and educated to grow up in that way, so that what risks 
you take are to some extent conditioned risks which you would easily 
take, or risks which are most accessible to you. In a sense you feel a 
kind of security that has to do with your family, your friends. If you 
live in an area where you have family and friends and certain things 
that are "on your side," that is your fate. In a sense the risks that 



218 
you take are assisted and guided by that kind of fate. But, at the 
other end of the line, there is a deeper kind of buried fate which you 
don'u see at all. And to move out of that line means, in fact, a 
decision on your part which has to do with freedom. 
Interviewer: This is risk taking? 

Harris: It is an enormous risk taking to move out to that end. 
And even the cultivation of that which is buried deep in the soil 
involves effort and work on your part, so that that thing which is far 
away down and has not seen the light of consciousness for ages may come 
up and thrust up and then you begin to climb that ladder. But, as you 
climb that ladder you are hit by the stones of the world and the ladder 
is shaking. Nevertheless, it relates to a certain root which is buried 
very deep and is coming up. So you have this tension between risk and 
some strange, deep-seated apparatus which comes up and is the guiding 
hand. That has nothing to do with the totalitarian condition. 

Interviewer: What has struck me as you have spoken about this is 
the image of a rhizome growing under the ground and sending out each 
year a different shoot farther along the unseen, hidden rhizome. In 
fact, Jung's biography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections , does in fact 
talk about his life as being rather like a rhizom.e growing underground 
and sending up the visible shoots at different points of his development. 
What startled me was the accuracy of your image in relation to what Jung 
talked about in terms of the inner life. 

Harris: I can't instantly recall that. But I would imagine there 
are many ways of describing this. When one thinks of what Jacques Monod 
has said that every living creature is also a fossil. A simple way of 



219 
demonstrating this is to look at certain birds that fly which have a 
bone in tlie wing that relates to a dinosaur. 

Interviewer: In fact, isn't there a theory abroad now, in America, 
that the dinosaurs didn't become extinct, they became birds? 

Harris; Birds have a bone which, if you look at it in terms of the 
"night sky of biology," is just a faint star in the night sky. But 
nevertheless, it relates to the enormous shape of the dinosaur, so that 
we have the fate of the dinosaur drawn up into the ladder of the flying 
bird. That bird involves enormous risks over ages and ages, for that 
bird to fly as it flies. But, it relates to a strange fate that has to 
do with a deep-seated reality bone of the dinosaur perpetually remaining 
in existence. This is not the case: a profound transformation, modifica- 
tion, occurred which allows for a new creature to appear. And this is 
very hard for people to understand. 

When you look at many of the major European writers they have not 
learned that lesson. One could list writer after writer, major writer 
after writer, who was fascinated either by Hitler or Mussolini, just as 
black intellectuals today are fascinated by Idi Amin or some other 
dictator. 

Genuine perfection is a riddle, a mystery, because it relates to 
this deep-seated root which comes up and makes these enormous risks 
available to us in terms of some creature that flies and m.oves like a 
strange fiction that exists. But the shapes have been constantly 
transformed and undermined and modified. Therefore, you have this 
hidden order that breaks the surfaces in order to heal something else, 
to make something else which comes out that is whole and healed, but is 
coming out in terms of an evolution. One has to call it an evolution in 



220 
terms of one's vision, because the dazzling perfection of deity is not 
available to one as an image. The dazzling perfection of deity has an 
imagelcssness in it. Man's condition is such that ver>' often he has to 
relate to what is new in terms, sometines, of terrifying, familiar 
images. The emotion of fear is sometimes something we know. Love is 
something we hardly know at all; therefore we bring an em.otion into play 
which tells us something of the necessity which exists in us to be loved 
and to love. And that emotion seems to spring out of fear, because fear 
is very familiar, a familiar condition, whereas love is an unfamiliar 
condition. 

Interviewer: Fear, of course, also protects. VJithout fear one 
feels totally without armor, the reaction one needs when faced with real 
danger. 

Harris: And fear may have its protective side, in that it may help 
us to save ourselves. When we speak of the perfection of fate, it is a 
perfection that resides in the ways in which the species also preserves 
and changes itself, even through dimensions of fear. 

Interviewer: ivTiat you are arguing for, it seems to me by 
definition, is not merely difficult but emotionally almost impossible; 
because if one is protected by a sense of fear as a matter of intuition, 
if it is a reaction that is reflexive, one doesn't have to think about 
being afraid. Then, hov; does one circumvent this? 

Harris: You circumvent it because you begin to sense that the 
images in which you invest as total, sovereign images are all partial. 
And therefore you begin to relate to an enormous clarity which resides 
in the accumulation of motives that allows them to come out of these 



221 

conditions. But we have to recognize this strange similarity of 
dissinilarities at times. 

Interviewer: Here v/e have the subject of what has frequently been 
called, and with some justice you must adir.it, the difficulty of your 
novels. I think it is V.S. Naipaul who said that all art eventually 
(you may not agree with this) is local, but a writer and the receiver of 
his work oust share the same equipment. I don't like the context of the 
writer and the receiver/consumer of his work, but there is some justice 
in that remark in that without that equipment, without what Ehrenzwaig 
called unconscious scanning, without the ability to receive a number of 
partial images at once without succumbing to the need to consolidate one 
image, if one doesn't have this equipment, what is the next step? 
Harris: I don't agree with the use of the word local . For 
example, when one looks at the native phenomenon one is looking at the 
whole potentiality for universality and I assess that in terms of the 
various roots which go out along a line. You could take one root out at 
the extreme end which is deeply buried, deeply native, and you help it 
to come up, and it comes up as a remarkable bird that flies with the 
star of the dinosaur in its wing. So that on the question of equipment 
I come back to what I said before — that the profound responsibility 
which resides in the creative Imagination is towards the community that 
is not totalitarian. And this is where I cannot go along with what is 
so fashionable on many levels, because this tendency towards, if not a 
totalitarian novel, an authoritarian condition, exists in many societies. 
The great responsibility of the imagination resides in this and is the 
only way, it seems to me, that this community can die and be reborn. Ws 
have discussed some of the ways: the flying madonna, the oceanic madonna. 



222 
These are quite different figures, but precisely because we have that 
kind of conciliation you can speak of the self-creating creator, once 
you have nodified it in terms which, we have discussed. 

Let me give you an illustration from Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated 
Wilderness . VJe have the strange kind of play that occurs in Holland 
Park when Cuffy dies. There are two poles: at one is unbearable 
violations which you associate with Cuffy. . . 
Interviewer: Slavery, the Middle Passage? 

Harris: . . .as well as unbearable violations that have occurred 
in any part of the globe. You have that pole. Now that is an unbearable 
pole, but you can pull out of it a theme of sacrifice that is bearable. 
You can still learn from it something to do with the naked shape. ;^en 
I say the naked shape I m.ean that at the heart of any tradition there 
must exist a body that lives. The tradition, after all, has its investi- 
ture, and that investiture is the clothing which naked bodies wear. At 
some degree we com.e into dialogue with that body as we begin to unravel 
these unbearable violations, so that we have some kind of vision of 
original sacrifice. In The Secret Ladder I was attempting to show that 
with the Andromeda figure: that behind Christ the male god lies the 
female who is also crucified. You have all these elements which relate 
to a genuine vision of sacrifice. If you become committed to one 
absolute shape you impoverish that shape. If you are committed to one 
total shape the irony is that you impoverish that shape, because that 
shape has its roots in other shapes. 

Now the other pole relates to Henry Rich the aristocrat and has to 
do with the question of freedom as it presents itself to us, as so 
idyllic that it is unattainable. The Henry Rich figure, the age of 



223 

Cromwell — you can see some of these imperatives of freedom so that 
within these two poles you mint out of tlie one pole something to do with 
sacrifice, and from tne other pole you mint something to do with the 
beauty of freedom. You have within those poles that complexity of 
nakedness, the complexity of nakedness within you. The local conditions 
could be seen as these poles in themselves, in which case you would have 
no possibility of a genuine community in v.'hich you understand sacrifice 
and in which you can interpret sacrifice, because all sacrifice would be 
buried in unbearable violation. On the other hand you would have no 
society in which you can relate to freedom, because all freedom would be 
unattainable. It would just be an idyllic pole. 

This is the problem that arises in Naipaul. If you are simply to 
rely on equipment in a local sense you are doomed. If, however, by 
local, in depth is meant, then I would go along with him and say that 
the equipment he is seeking is an equipment which one has to usher into 
being by this kind of involvement. It is not a hopeless involvement 
because, after all, one is dealing with native roots, which may lie at 
great depths but are still native. One is not imposing something; one 
is pulling something up from the very depths of the soil of place and 
time. 

Interviewer: I am sure by local Naipaul doesn't mean a sense of 
native depth. He does mean a communication between writer and reader is 
extremely limited if the reader is simply not equipped emotionally or 
mentally to understand what the writer is writing. I think this is his 
real concern. But there is another remark, if I may invoke Naipaul 
again, that seems to me perhaps even more interesting. And that is the 
one he makes about the novelist in particular being an unstitcher of 



224 
systems. It struck me again when you talked about the need to unravel 
the clothing of a particular institution or particular attitude so as to 
get at the conplexity of it, to get at the rr.ultiplicity of images. We 
are talking about unstitching and it seems to me much more applicable to 
your own work. 

Harris: I don't know in what context he uses it. But in the sense 
in which you present it to me I would accept it, because I do believe 
the writer is an unstitcher, precisely because that is the only way in 
which one can create a genuine community without being overwhelmed by a 
certain stasis. One of the paradoxes of European art is that some of 
the very major writers have eventually been caught in that complex. 
They have been fascinated by a condition. This is one of the things I 
sought in Black Marsden to present; the Black Marsden figure has a great 
deal to teach us if we can accept his ambivalence. I think Europe has a 
great deal to teach us if we can accept its ambivalence. You can begin 
to relate to these extraordinary strategies of the imagination, as in 
the Ehrenzweig writings. So you have this ambivalence with the Black 
Marsden figure: he can be a terrifying figure; and yet, in the sense 
that Goodrich could see his own face coming out, there you have the 
intuitive dimension of nakedness and unravelling of poles. 

Interviewer: The point about the West Indies and the Caribbean 
being historyless is, I think, pertinent here. You said somewhere that 
what the Caribbean needs, and perhaps what the world needs, is a 
philosophy of history that has not, in fact, been written. You are 
looking in your work, it seems to me, for an alternative history to get 
back once again to the idea of a sacred space, or a sacred alternative 



225 
attitude to events. You said that perhaps such a philosophy may lie 
buried in the arts of the imagination. 

Karris: Yes. It comes back to what we were saying about roots, 
the roots of fate. Unless one is sensitive it means that the history 
that one becomes involved in is a history that imprints itself on us so 
remorselessly that there seems to be no capacity within the body politic 
to revise the nature of sovereignty. It becomes wholly locked in a 
model of sovereignty which is historic. But, in fact, is this what 
history is saying when one looks deeply at the traumas and problems and 
residues of history? History, after all, is not only what is written; 
there are many areas of history that are not written at all, but they 
are still imprinted in the psyche. And if history leads to a condition 
in which you have an implacable sovereignty, it means that the very best 
V7ithin the tradition is vitiated. 

Interviewer: The point is well taken. And it seems to me that 
with your work, perhaps, this history is being written. Would you 
consider that a fair comment? Would you, in fact, identify yourself 
with the writing of this kind of history? 

Harris: I wouldn't put it as "this kind of history." I feel that 
history has much more to offer us than what we accept in terras of total 
images, that history has another side in which it is saying that the 
total images are partial. And if we see this, we have another clarity 
within another area of another kind of clarity other than the apparently 
lucid pole of history, which dominates us so absolutely that it could 
lead to the vitiation of tradition. What is best in a tradition? ;^fhat 
is best has to do with all these various roots which stretch away and 
make it possible for us to move out into areas and take risks. That is 



226 
one of the natures of history. It may have several natures. But the 
imaginative psyche is in concert with that kind of history, in that it 
can see that what we accept as history most implacably and dogmatically 
is a fiction. 

Interviewer: VJhich is a nice point actually at which to end. The 
fiction which you are writing then, it seems to me, is more real than 
the definition of the word fiction seems to suggest, if it deals with 
the genuine complexity of reality rather than with historical fact. 
Kilson, thank you very much indeed. 

Harris: Thank you. 



THE EYE OF THE SCARECROW 



AN INTERVIEW WITH WILSON HARRIS 

MARION GILLILAND AND IVAN VAN SERTIMA 

LONDON, 22 JULY 1980 



Interviewer: A while ago you were talking about the "light." Now 
one begins to realize to some extent this tremendous preoccupation you 
have had with eyes. The eye, the peculiarity of the eye, is a very 
central symbol to all of your work. In Palace of the Peacock you have 
the dreamer. He has an eye; but that eye is the underground eye, which 
is to some extent closed because he cannot yet see the subterranean 
levels of his existence. The upper eye, the daylight or surface eye, is 
wide awake and rules his sight, rules his world because all the 
conceptions that have come out of that other eye which his brother has, 
and his brother rules the world. That is the conception, the reigning 
and ruling conception. I presume that the eye of the scarecrow is the 
walking a line and one is tempted to let the mob have its way in opinion 
because it is easier. 

Harris: If you let the mob have its way, then you simply succumb 
to a form of death. To come back to the question of the eye of the 
scarecrow, this is used in various ways. Indeed, as you rightly say, it 
was there even in Palace , with the two eyes. In Black Karsden it is the 
eye that unravels biases, that tunnels through. Remember when Jennifer 
says, "you are one of us because you have the eye of the scarecrow." 

227 



228 
She called that the judgement day scenario, the capacity to tunnel 
through. You can see that the eye of the scarecrow makes it possible 
for meaningful distortions to enter into existence. 

If you look at this scene around you, here in Holland Park, you 
could just take it for granted and then you are stuck in it. If you can 
sense that it is as if the whole cosmos is overshadowed, then there are 
luminous shadows and the brightness we are seeing now has to do with the 
luminous quality of the shadows. On a rainy day you wouldn't see that 
shadow; even the sharp shadow in between the leaves has a luminous 
quality. That is why it springs out at you. On a day that is clouded 
those shadows wouldn't jump out at you. If you could transport yourself 
instantly to another continent, you might be blinded at first, or you 
might be astonished to find that this light is not as bright as it 
appears now, because you might be under a tropical sun that has vertical 
rays and you would have to creep back towards evening to find that same 
quality of light. This would astonish you because you associate this 
with midday. 

Those meaningful distortions have to do with the eye of the 
scarecrow. This scarecrow eye is conscious all the time that nothing 
that you articulate into a solid position is as solid as it appears to 
be. This day which is so beautiful is not as fixed and solid as it 
appears to be because it exists on the globe, a turning globe. And 
there are curious mutations of the light around us which we cannot see 
but which affect us. This is the non-sense part. This eye of the 
scarecrow and its mutations have been quite strange, remarkable, right 
through the novels even up co Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness , 
where I spoke of non-sense data. 



229 
V*1ien I look back at the tropics, which seeraed an excessively bright 
world to me when I lived there as a child, I can see now that 1 was 
blind to a lot of it because I couldn't really contrast it to other 
kinds of light. In India, for example, the light is so peculiar that 
you almost have a sense at times that some of the statues in the temple 
^■;ould resist gravity. The light is so peculiar that if you look at a 
piece of mud on the ground it becomes almost like a bone. The light 
seems to exhaust the flesh of the mud and reduce it in your eyes to a 
kind of bone. That is the eye of the scarecrow, how it relates one 
thing to another. 

In Companions of the Day and Night I mentioned this concept of 
resistance to gravity. If you read Companions very closely you V7ill 
find right through the novel a number of motifs to do with verticality, 
with the falling figure. So even though the novel seems to be written 
on a linear plane (that is you go from one thing to another on a linear 
plane), in fact, the novel carries this verticality from the start. The 
man who is painting on the street is conscious of the lake under his 
feet. He is conscious of the fall through the street into the lake 
underneath where he sees Montezuma, the ancient Montezuma, moving on a 
canal. At the very beginning of the novel you are already involved in 
the fall of Idiot Nameless who falls from the top of the pyramid. It is 
as if you are starting with the Idiot Nameless buried in the soil of 
Mexico City under the ground. It isn't until you get to the end that 
you learn of Idiot Nameless' fall. But at the very beginning you are 
already immersed in that fall because it is as if this falling figure is 
ceaselessly falling. It is a timeless fall, so that you don't simply 
identify it in time. It exists everywhere. When he goes, for example, 



230 
to the mm in New York there is a great curtain that billows up around 
his head when he is speaking to the nun. This curtain has the pyramid 
painted on it. It is as if the pyramid strikes his head and when he 
fell he also struck the pyramid. Then he has a sense of the two nuns: 
one is the nun of bone and you play on this notion of bone and blood, 
the notion of the splintered body as it picks up the rose and the bone. 
That falling body as it falls all the time seems to unravel the costumes 
it wears. Even the body that it wears is unravelled because there is 
some essential unstructured spirit that is falling through these 
costumes. That brings us back to what you w^ere talking about earlier 
about the mediating force between structures. 

Interviewer: This concept comes up in the idea of the prestriictural 
state in American Indian mythology and the Idiot who is shapeless and 
therefore before the fixed shape, before the fixed sex and fixed cultural 
form. Many people have difficulty with this concept or cannot grasp it. 

Harris: You must realize that when you are moving on ground like 
this, at times you feel a bit of alarm because you are m.oving into an 
area that needs to be continuously seen and perceived afresh. What you 
were saying in terms of that figure is that it is one that mediates. It 
is one of the shadowy figures in which those cultures are conscious of a 
mediation between structures but could not state it like that. Neverthe- 
less, implicitly that is what the structure is doing. This would baffle 
many people because the tendency is to think of structures that as you 
descend you come to some structure that rules everything. That would 
appear to be in part the thrust of Ehrenzweig, but that was thirty years 
ago. My point is that if you descend always into structure, I think you 
will find that you will come to the ground where you will have to 



231 
confess to incorrigible bias, bias you can never correct. It cannot be 
corrected because structure carries bias with it. Ehrenzweig confessed 
a paradox that as he descended there was something very archaic in the 
world into which ha descended. It was something also that seemed to 
comprehend all times. He can you have that? Curiously enough that 
happens in Tumatumari when Roy Solman strikes his head. He has an 
archaic side but he has a comprehensive side too. And I think that one 
comes to this position where you find the mediating forces. In 
Companions if you read the linear surface of the novel, you may omit 
these motifs that have to do with the verticality of the novel. 

Interviewer: I find it impossible to read that novel with any 
assumption about the linear quality. 

Harris: Anyone who would try to read it that way would fail to see 
that that is an irony. The verticality is stated all the way through 
but sometimes in peculiar ways so that sometimes the end seems to come 
before the beginning, as though you already exist within the moment when 
Idiot Nameless is falling through the pavement. That is the beginning 
of the novel; it is the end, yet it's really the beginning. 

Interviewer: This is true of The Far Journey of Oudin as well. 

Harris: Now in Genesis of the Clowns when the lightning storm 
occurs Wellington believes that he has been shot. That comes very early 
in the novel, but in time it comes after the expedition. Late in the 
novel VJellington visits Hope, who goes away, and it is conceivable that 
he comes back and finds Wellington in bed with Lucille. It's not 
absolutely stated, but it is implied this may have happened. Hope may 
have raised his gun to him, then desisted and didn't shoot him, spared 



232 
him because Wellington was like his father. But Wellington is only a 
few years older than Hope. 

It was after that they went to Abary, the lightning stom cane, and 
the whole tent seemed to collapse. There was a crack like a gun, like 
[a] gunshot, and Hope appeared in the tent and Wellington had the 
feeling that Hope was pointing a gun at hin. This came after the 
incident at Christmas, when Wellington visited Hope's place to tell him 
that they had to leave on an expedition early in January. He also met 
Lucille, who came out of the back room dressed in a very light garment 
and he was very attracted to her. Hope told Wellington that he was 
going away for a few days. It is never explicitly stated, but it is 
implied that Wellington came back when he thought that Hope was away and 
that he went to bed with Lucille. Then Hope turned up unexpectedly and 
pointed his gun at him, then desisted. It is after that that they went 
on the expedition; so the scene which is painted early in the novel came 
after the visit, after Wellington visited Hope, after the Abary incident. 
But it comes early in the novel. 

Do you see where the Oedipus idea is flickering through? 
Wellington is a father figure; Oedipus killed his father and slept with 
his mother without knowing it. Wellington is the father figure: Hope 
points the gun at him. All the women in the novel are all strangely 
modulated into each other like mothers of Guyana. They are all knitted 
into each other, but nowhere is it stated explicitly that they are 
incestuously woven together. The novel desists from doing that in order 
not to foster the notion of incest. Now I believe that incest occurred 
after the middle passage because there vjas an acute imbalance of the 
sexes. I believe that people without knowing it were committing incest 



233 
because their brothers and sisters were not even known to them. In 
Palace of the -e acock you have this secret notion of Schombiirgh who may 
have slept with his sister aad is filled with a horrific sensation that 
he has been overwhelmed by some witchcraft, that Carroll is his son. 
Yet he doesn't want that because Carroll is the child of his sister. 
Now in Genesis of the Clowns the incest theme is very subtly played 
through, but never made explicit because incest is not in the history 
books. It is a rumor; it is never a historical fact. 

I don't think an imaginative novelist should concern his work with 
historical fact. I was playing with the idea of incest, but playing 
with it in an immense way in which the ancient Oedipus myth visits this 
disadvantaged society in order to redeem it. The great myths of the 
ancient world can reappear where you least expect them to appear. They 
don't necessarily have to confine themselves to great monumental 
conventions. Wellington is the father of Hope, symbolically speaking. 
He is only three or four years older than Hope, but he is the father. 
Hope is about to shoot him for sleeping with Lucille. Remember that 
this woman has a daughter as well, whom Hope virtually falls in love 
with; so you also get the inversion of the incest theme. Lucille 
resembles her mother very closely and it is in the end when the black 
Wellington sleeps with the daughter that Hope kills him. At the moment 
he fires the gun it is the daughter not the mother who is there. And it 
is the daughter he shelters almost incestuous ly. WTien Hope points the 
gun at the black Wellington there seems to be the notion in his mind 
that if he knew that this man was also Frank Wellington he would have 
known that whatever essence existed in the white Frank Wellington whom 



234 
he spared also existed in the black one. Therefore, he might have seen 
the irony of fate. 

Incer\'iewer: At least he would sense it subconsciously. 

Harris: If he had seen that fate vas playing vjith him ironically, 
that here was a Frank Wellington returning. He didn't know the name of 
the man who was sleeping with his daughter Lucille who so closely 
resembled her mother. There you get the Oedipus nyth. That is a very 
strange novel. Genesis . But there was no other way that I could write 
it. If I had attempted to write it, in say, the Mittelholzer fashion, I 
would have augmented the incest and made it sensational and presented a 
straight realistic portrait which could have appealed to people for all 
sorts of sensational reasons. To have done this would have been to have 
violated the true facts which are that I am not sure that incest 
occurred. This is only an intuition I have based on rumors. There are 
no historical grounds on which I could have assum.ed that incest occurred 
after the middle passage. I have a deep intuition that it occurred 
because the imbalance of sexes in Guyana has been the case from the 
earliest colonization of the coastlands. This is disregarding the 
Amerindians for the moment. This imbalance has been there right through 
until about 1920 or so when it began to even out. There were always 
more men than women. As a consequence it becomes almost inevitable that 
you would have had occasions of incest. You may have even had it in the 
middle passage; people may not have recognized each other. Suppose a 
man was there and his young daughter or sister came through later as a 
slave. He had known her when she was three years old, let us say he was 
twenty when he was transported. Now he is thirty-five, fifteen years 
later his daughter comes at eighteen; he doesn't know her. His desire 



235 
for a woman is so strong, if he could get that woman he would have her. 
How would he know she is his daughter? There were no records to make it 
totally clear that these people were related. 

Interviewer: Records in fact were destroyed or deliberately not 
kept in order to break down family or tribal units to prevent cohesive 
groups or activity on the part of the slaves. 

Harris: I always had the feeling that incest is part of the burden 
of guilt one carries coming out of Guyana. I have had that feeling 
since very far back, almost from early youth. But I also had the 
feeling that it is not something to be exploited because the facts are 
intuitive facts. Thus you get Genesis one of the few novels in which I 
made a greater thrust into this issue than in any of the others. 

Now to return to what I was saying. To come back to the scene of 
the tent. In linear context, that would really occur after the visit to 
Albuoystown. But that sort of com.plex and subtle disruption bears on 
the way incest has overshadowed the minds of people before they were 
born, so that they were involved in it before they were born. Thus, 
instead of presenting it as a logical sequence you have to see its 
irrationality, its illogicality in a fiction that works that way. There 
is also the epigraph from Edwin Muir which comes from a poem on Oedipus: 
"I was the one who stumbled into guilt and now through guilt must seek 
other innocence." So the eye of the scarecrow works that way. It is an 
eye that does not accept the structures which appear to you immediately 
fixed, as this day around us is im.mediately fixed, the kind of sky and 
light. It is only when you begin to mediate on the strangeness of the 
light against other backgrounds of light that we can bring about that 
meaningful distortion that helps us to look through this moment into the 



236 

whole fabric of shadows and lights around the globe. In emotional 
matters the same thing applies. 

Interviewer: Could you discuss a little of your ideas regarding 
Knife, his significance, who he is and what he is in Black Marsden ? 

Harris: Knife is presented, as are the others, as a figure who has 
to do with Black Marsden' s peculiar operation. When he appeared in the 
Abbey he v;as supposed to correspond to curious instruments that are 
inserted into a culture. You have a kind of skeleton harp and skeleton 
knife, the eye of the scarecrow that tunnels through. 

Interviewer: Skeletons of civilizations. 

Harris: He gives the feeling that one could have the twanging harp 
in one's flesh, that if one could strip away the flesh the very skeleton 
could be converted into a harp. The skeleton which seems to be a 
deprived kind of structure can be converted into a harp; the mind of the 
skeleton is the life of sculpture. Knife is also some instrument that 
one carried within oneself and you begin to see Knife as a two- 
dimensional figure. When Goodrich first sees Knife, though Knife is a 
white man, he has a strong image of the Black Jamaican he met in 
Kingston. This Knife was the man who came into the restaurant or pub. 
He has a curious feeling about Knife who had a face like a beehive, like 
a cemetery in which all sorts of people were buried, as if his face 
would suck all the beggars in and bury them. This very Beehive-Knife 
comes into the restaurant and gives him a note and some money. But, 
when he sees the white man he sees this other Knife and is utterly 
amazed later to discover that he has made such an error. That is what 
Black Marsden sees as eye of the scarecrow, as judgement day scenario. 
So Knife exists both in terms of a world in which you are conscious of 



237 
the dangers that can exist within a society and Knife is related to the 
assassin oi: whom we spoke earlier. Knife is a figure that can be borne 
by Goodrich because of the Samsonian avalanche in which he is involved. 
All of that helps him to begin to disrupt the charmed circles within 
which Knife becomes the ruling principle. 

You live in a world that is so polarized that what rules it is 
violence, because there is no way of transfonning the world except 
through violence between polarized roots. Knife, therefore, becomes the 
guide, the only principle that can guide you. How can you do these 
dreadful things that constitute conquest? But Goodrich can bear that 
kind of torment for the first tine because he is no longer locked into 
that order. Therefore he can carry Knife as a figure who teaches him 
the necessity to transform the world, whereas he couldn't have done it 
prior to a certain kind of experience. The same is true of Black 
Harsden, who teaches Goodrich to come into his own position, lonely as 
it is. His loneliness is very great: he stands, as it were, alone at 
the heart of the city. He could never come into that loneliness, 
aloneness which is pregnant with the future, if Black Marsden had not 
threatened him in another dimension. It was possible for him to sustain 
all these figures. Black Marsden, Knife, and all the others. Part of 
the shadow that Knife casts is the shadow of the assassin, the shadow of 
the man who cleans up the streets and goes out and exterminates all the 
beggars. 

Inter-v-iewer: On the Austro-Hungarian border at Schopbrun there is 
a church built out of the bones of thousands of people who died from a 
pestilence. Monks were ordered to collect and bury all the bodies and 
later they were dug up and they made a church from the bones. 



238 
Harris: That is a fossil church, but the fossil has all the echoes 
and memories in it. It is curious that you should say that, because it 
was the walking bone that Goodrich saw. The bone was fleshed with 
light, yet it was a walking bone; it could shred itself and acquire a 
kind of flesh, a refugee church of man. Vvhat is curious about this is 
the sheer impossibility of entering into those novels. When you look 
back on then, it was a phenomenon really to have undertaken novels like 
that. The philosophical justifications for them are not immediate. 
What we discussed about structures and mediating between structures is 
not something that I could have intellectually stated. But it is all 
there intuitively. It is stated in different tones: seminal ruin, 
seminal catastrophe, because that is what your bone church means. Your 
bone church also means the refugee church of mankind and seems to me to 
symbolize the refugee status of mankind, in which the bones are 
scattered everywhere. When you see it like that, you convert the 
deprivation: the bones no longer become just bones; the skeleton which 
becomes a harp is no longer just a harp. Even when it becomes a knife 
it has a tone in it, the possibility of confronting the assassin in 
terms that do not allow the assassin to be the utterly insupportable 
monster which he appears to be when you yourself are locked into an 
order of things that seems wholly unable to see how partial it is. 

The assassin thrives in a world where one does not confess to one's 
partialities. The whole ground of the assassin lies in this: "There is 
no way forward unless I kill you. You are so adamant and so incorrigible 
that I cannot move unless I kill you." If that is the truth of the 
world, if the logic of the world is incorrigible bias, then there will 
always be scope for the assassin. When you have confessed to your 



239 

O 
biases that they are not as incorrigible as they seem, that is the first 

time that you can face the assassin. His power over you will begin to 

diTninibh from that Eoment, You see that he is not as sovereign as he 

appears to be. There is another perspective of change which lies in the 

canvases of existence. Then you can support the thought of the assassin, 

dreadful as it is; it is still dreadful, but you can support it, because 

it is no longer conclusive. 

Interviewer: As you were speaking it occurred to me that the 
double, the shadow, really, which begins with the first novel and the Da 
Silva brothers, continues through the novels to Knife's shadow, which 
was seen in a different world. There is a stronger impression in Black 
Marsden that all these figures have shadows walking beside them, not 
just shadows but shadows of themselves. 

Harris: This double concept has to do with the way one transforms 
deprivation. In a world such as ours you are aware of the sense of 
intense deprivation which people suffered; they have lost their original 
languages, both Africans and Amerindians. There are other deprivations, 
such as the Oedipus one, the one of possible incest. These deprivations 
could become opportunities through which you could begin to transform 
the world. That is a paradox. When one takes the position that we were 
discussing with Knife and Black Marsden , which is set in Europe and seen 
through this eye V7hich a strict Scottish writer would not have used, 
what one is able to do is to suggest that you begin to support and bear 
a certain kind of anguish to do with the assassin, with Knife. And yet 
this has a rich texture of possibilities, because for the first time you 
realize that these structures which have been ruled by assumptions of 
incredible violence, those structures are not as absolute as they seem. 



240 
Thus, through the deprivations, which vould have appeared to ba fixed, 
you begin to transform the world. There is a double in it. Each thing 
seems to have another side to it that allows you to work through 
materials which you would not have utilized at all under other 
circumstances. 

Kaipaul says, for instance, that there is nothing in the West 
Indies. But what I would say is that there exists in the West Indies 
what appears to be poverty but has a rich aspect to it, because you are 
able to gain this sense of mediation between forms and structures which 
you would not have gained. The very deprivations push you in that 
direction. Without the staring eye you wouldn't sense the subtlety and 
complexity of the other eye. It is through this other staring eye which 
seems to be deprived, through that kind of apparition of insensibility 
and death, that you begin to undermine death. It seems utterly remote 
from life because it can stare at the sun without being blinded. 
Without seeing it in that way you would take it for granted and fail to 
see the way you can transform various boundaries. 

Take the non-sense idea, the non-sense data of existence. You can 
look back with hindsight and sense that this is part of the mystery of 
freedom, because you can look back and see that you were in dialogue 
with some sort of illumination that was coming out of a piece of stone. 
That stone becomes a lamp with hindsight. When you were actually close 
to it you didn't see the light that it cast on part of your life. The 
light was cast, but you were not aware of it. This is where the myth 
enters of the genie of the lamp that was rubbed. The lamp, after all, 
was throw-n away on the rubbish heap. You could pull it out of the 
rubbish heap; you rub it and it shines. That is how Da Silva lived with 



241 

his paintings. All of the paintings had an element of non-sense in them 
because he painted them and didn't realize he had a profound dialogue 
vjith then. Later on he could perceive this. 

That is how the double works, the creeping up of a certain kind of 
hindsight, or foresight position. Clearly it illumines the future as 
well. As you nove into the future you are aware that the future 
possesses these strange milestones, which are already at work in your 
life though you are not yet conscious of them. Though w^e sit here we 
are already moving into the future. Because of what we have experienced 
in the past, we face the future with the sense that we are not as solid 
as we think we are. There is a shadow with us which is already aware of 
the kinds of illuminations coming out of the future. Those illuminations 
are addressing us already and our responses to those illuminations will 
have a great deal to do with the kind of freedom which we may secure in 
the future, just as our hindsight into the past teaches us a great deal 
of all the freedoms that we have won out of the past. So there is 
always this double, this sense of going back into the past as though the 
shadow leaves us and returns to the past to inspect the past and bring 
news back; and the shadow goes into the future to inspect the future and 
come back to us with news of the future. That sense you have of the 
shadow going with the solid person is very real, very true. Sometimes 
this shadow seems to disappear because of the kind of light that is 
cast. At other times it appears to jump out at you. In Ascent to Omai 
the doppelganger is much more pronounced [than in the other novels] but 
it is not always so obvious. 

Interviewer: It seems that it is not just the specter of the other 
person who is there, but the ghost of other civilizations, other 



242 
societies as well, the specter of an Amerindian force that appears 
through society as well as a European force or African force in multiple 
layers, 

Harris: They are all there because in a sense as you begin to 
activate your own resources these other resources cone into play even 
though you are not aware of them. When you activate something in 
yourself you become aware of them. 

Interviewer: This goes back to what we discussed earlier about the 
structure of the novels, the "holes" in them, the spaces and working in 
and out through them. 

Harris: These forces, incomplete as they are, arouse in you a 
sensation of forces which exist in you but which you are not conscious 
of. The dialogue, then, that is set up is a mysterious dialogue, 
because it lies beyond the framework of the book. And yet the activation 
of these resources is what is so strange. You are activating the 
mediating element between yourself and the past, between one civilization 
and another, between one culture and another. A very rich fabric begins 
to come into play just as we look around. This day then would be 
pregnant. When we look around we are aware that these trees are not 
just stuck into the ground as a kind of backcloth but they relate to 
light elsewhere around the globe. The kinds of densities that alert you 
are what bring this place to life. Otherwise you could just sit back 
and the scene becomes a painted background, a painted proscenium around 
you. The densities that suddenly disrupt the pattern are what bring 
into play so many shadows coming out of other landscapes. 

Interviewer: This kind of interplay is what first fascinated me 
with your novels. But, it is the very quality that keeps others from 



243 
reading the novels, because it requires a great deal of effort. Thank 
you. 



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248 

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249 

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259 

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BIOGRi'iPHICAL SKETCH 

Marion C. Gilliland was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1944. 
Slia grew up in a nu-litary family, receiving her education in a variety 
of toNv-ns and stattb before coaing to Gainesville. She received ler B.A. 
in language arts at the University of Florida in 1966, and subsequently 
taught for several years prior to returning to the University of Florida 
to complete her M.A. in theater with a minor in art history in 1971. 
After completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Florida in 
1982 she plans to continue teaching hunanities. 



260 



1 certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it 
conforiPS to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully 
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of 
Doctor of Philosophy. 



Alistair M. Duckworth, Chairman 
Professor of English 



I certify that 1 have read this study and that in my opinion it 
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully 
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of 
Doctor of Philosophy. 




Ira Clark, Co-chairman 
Associate Professor of English 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it 
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully 
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of 
Doctor of Philosophy. 




V..4..->-- 



Peter Lisca 
Professor of English 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it 
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully 
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of 
Doctor of Philosophy. 



/ '/ 



Sidney R. Roman 
Professor of English 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it 
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully 
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of 
Doctor of F'nilosopliy . 







David M. Chalmers 
Professor of History 



This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department 
of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the 
Graduate Council, and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the 
requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



December 1982 



Dean for Graduate Studies and 
Research 



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 

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